I speak with high school students daily who are trying to decide whether to go to college and, if they do, where they should go. Everyone talks about choosing a “good school,” but I encourage them to choose the “right” school. So, what exactly is the difference?
Ask anyone to name a “good” college and you’re likely to hear answers like, “Princeton,” “Harvard,” “Penn,” etc., and with good reason. These types of schools are recognized as the top academic institutions here at home and abroad. But does that make them the “right” college for you?
The “right” school is one that teaches you what you need to know for your chosen career, and it’s one you can afford. So, if you want to become a high school teacher, going to Harvard would probably be overkill. And if you want to become a plumber, then a 2-year trade school would make more sense. And if you’re not sure what you want to do, go to community college to take a few general education courses and get a feel for college life and college-level assignments. Gone are the days when you could spend a few thousand dollars to go to college, try different courses, and “find yourself.”
I went to school in the late 70’s and early 80’s with guys who worked full-time manual labor summer jobs and delivered pizzas during school months and were able to fully pay for their college education. That’s just not realistic anymore. Today, a post-secondary education can cost $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 or more per year, and many students have to borrow most (if not all) of the money to make it through (whether they graduate or not).
In their 2015 book, “Student Loans and the Dynamics of Debt,” editors Brad Hershbein and Kevin Hollenbeck reported several disconcerting facts about student debt:
- Between 2004-2012, total education debt tripled, and it was the only major debt source (among mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, and home equity lines of credit) that increased during the Great Recession.
- The average balance per borrow grew unabated during this same time, partly due to interest accumulation from low repayment and high delinquency rates.
- At the end of 2012, 17% of borrowers were behind 90 days or more, surpassing credit card debt as the highest delinquency rate. This difficulty in repaying student loans may have also prevented access to other forms of credit (i.e., mortgages fell sharply from 2005-2012 for student loan borrowers).
When asked, I try to counsel and educate students and their families about choosing the “right” school to prepare them for their chosen career, and to help them minimize the impact of student loans when they leave school. I also stay in touch with several students after they graduate, and try to help them stay in school, transfer schools, or just stay sane during finals week.
My role as an educator doesn’t end when my students graduate. It ends when they stop seeking my help.