I am the financial aid coordinator and VA Certifying Official at a campus of a major public research university in Pennsylvania. I have held my current position since 1998 and prior to that I worked at the local community college for nine years. At the community college, I coordinated services, including help with financial aid, for our disabled students and taught GED prep courses. My entire career in higher education has been spent deep in the world of financial aid.
I read mistermix’s original post on financial aid and found some of it completely fair and some of it really off from my own experiences. Here is my response to his post.
A case in point is the absolute god damned mess that unfettered access to student loans has created in this country. Whether it’s $10K, $50K or some other amount of loan that’s forgiven, somebody’s going to be getting money that someone else thinks is undeserved. Yet far too little attention will be paid to the forty or so years during which our higher ed system gradually fucked the poor and middle class.
I totally agree with this. It is a disgrace that we have the student loan debt situation that we have today and a total abdication of responsibility for post-secondary education and training on the state level. In PA, it’s led to an almost bankrupt state university system, a state-related university system that is not a whole lot less expensive than a private non-profit university and a state grant system that is totally inadequate to make up for the funding cuts and resulting tuition increases made to the state and state-related universities.
My state-related, major four-year research university almost invariably vies each year with Michigan as the most expensive public university in the nation. About 8-12% of our balance sheet comes from direct state funding. The rest is paid for by tuition, athletic broadcast revenue and state, federal and private research grants and any profits that may accrue to the university from them. We have three tuition tiers depending on which campus a student attends. The highest is at our main campus, which has a population of about 48-50K undergrads (not including any grad figures in any of this as it is a totally different animal and I am not an expert in it). Then there are four medium campuses scattered throughout the state which have anywhere from 2-5K. Their tuition rates are several thousand less than the main campus’. Then there are the smaller campuses, of which there are 14, and they enroll anywhere from 600-2000 students. I work at a smaller campus. Our tuition is several thousand less than both the main campus and medium campuses. With the exception of the main campus, our in-state tuition rates have been frozen for the past five years because of fears we were getting too unaffordable and financially exclusive for a public university. And even at the main campus, in-state tuition increases were 1% or less over the same time period. So my own institution has made some significant sacrifices recently in order to keep student costs down and keep this economically important public institution inclusive. We have also significantly increased our endowments for student scholarships exponentially over the last ten years, almost all of it aimed at helping students to complete their degrees and complete them on time, providing more university based funding for financially struggling students and providing those students with opportunities such as study abroad and travel to professional conferences. We are also providing in-state tuition rates at the smaller campuses to students who live in several border states in order to make it affordable for them, especially if they live within commuting distance from one of our campuses. My campus is one of those campuses who has students who can easily drive to it from West Virginia or Ohio every day.
I worked in a small rural state college financial aid office in the late 80’s/early 90’s, so I was there just when loans were getting out of control. Here are some of the things that we could see happening that just have gotten much, much worse:
- The Pell Grant program, which was supposed to let poor kids go to school for basically free, was starting to be outstripped by inflation and tuition that rose faster than inflation. So, kids who had no idea about the kind of commitment they were making were getting thousands of dollars of debt as part of their financial aid package. Yet, from the point of view of the school, it didn’t matter because loan money and grant money paid tuition.
I also agree that the Pell Grant program is totally inadequate to the challenge of the intent of the grant. Based on what I know about the tuition rates here in PA at all the public universities, a doubling of the current maximum Pell Grant ($6345 per year) would pay for all or most of a student’s in-state tuition. Students here in PA who qualify for the Pell also will qualify for the PA State Grant, which fluctuates in value depending on what the state budget is, but is usually around $4K. Then there is the Federal SEOG Grant, which many Pell eligible students may receive. Lastly, my institution has numerous institutional grants and scholarships aimed at low income students. So a student can, if they live close enough to a campus to commute from home, get a four-year degree here without any loans at all if we just adjusted the Pell Grant to be something resembling the reality of higher education costs. If they qualify for all of these things, without even taking into account any outside scholarships they may receive, and commute from home, tuition will be covered and so will other incidentals such as books and gas for the commute.
There are also some tweaks that could be done to the formula for determining EFC that would expand Pell beyond the very, very low income ceiling it currently has, but I know there are some big changes being considered in this area and am reluctant to talk about that until I see what is being contemplated and its chances of being implemented are.
As for schools not caring as long as the bill is paid, that would be only some schools. Of course we want the bill to be paid, but I have never worked anywhere that gave me this impression. I hated the community college when I worked there, but they were very compassionate to their students’ financial situations.
At my current institution, we provide very detailed but easy to read financial aid award notifications, require parents/guardians to attend a parent/guardian session heavily focused on costs, billing and financing during summer freshman orientation and, at my campus, every student who is moving into campus housing and their parent/guardian must meet with me to discuss their aid, their bill and financing options and have a plan in writing before they can move in. I am sometimes forced to tell a family that it would be to their detriment for their student to attend. Sometimes those students and their families decide I am right and sometimes they decide they can figure it out. All I can do is provide every bit of information I can, give them all the options available and allow them to make their own decisions. I am not ever taken to task when a student decides not to enroll or move in. We don’t want students to have bad debt any more than they do. I realize that other schools may not do this, but it is not fair to assume that every school is just all about the Benjamins.
- The Perkins Loan program, which was essentially a federal loan fund administered by the school, was grossly underfunded after the Guaranteed Student Loan (Stafford Loan) program, administered by banks and passed by Congress after heavy bank lobbying. But the Perkins Loan program was so much more healthy for the school, because if the school had good collections, they could loan more money. With Perkins loans, the school had an positive incentive to make good loans. GSLs (and their follow-ons) had no such positive incentive – the school just had to keep its default rate down.
Can’t disagree with any of this, but, sadly, the Perkins Loan is no more. We do have an institutional loan that we lend at what the old Perkins rates and terms were, but we have such limited funding for it every year as be able to only offer it to seniors who have exhausted all other options.
- Single moms from rural towns would use financial aid as an adjunct to all the other programs they were receiving, making barely OK progress towards some kind of degree, but incurring (for them) staggering debt as they did.
I don’t see much of this, but it does happen sometimes. I am guessing it is a real problem at the community college level. Most of those students wouldn’t pay a cent in tuition there because they would qualify for all the free aid and community college tuition is so low and accept all of their loan funding to supplement whatever income they have. And creating a huge amount of debt they didn’t need to accrue.
- Kids from little towns would come down for a semester or a year, unprepared for college, flunk out, and go home a few thousand dollars poorer. The debt wasn’t crippling, as it is now, but it sure didn’t help them start out in life.
This is generally not a problem for our in-state students. But it is a huge problem with our out-of-state students. We lose an awful lot of them every year simply because they aren’t prepared, whether that is financially, socially, academically or all of the above. And I foresee more of it as admission requirements continue to be in flux. There are all kinds of things that are causing issues here that are sometimes the fault of the admissions people trying to increase applications and some of them are beyond our control. Some issues that are currently creating havoc are self-reported high school records (a final transcript will be required long after admission offers go out), not requiring any standardized tests due to their biases, limited pre-enrollment placement testing and massive secondary school grade inflation. I’m not an admissions expert, though, so I can’t really explain or come up with any solutions to any of this.
- We were starting to see a few transfers from private for-profit schools and it was clear those kids were absolutely worked over by those schools.
I cannot agree enough with this. Totally ripoffs in every way. Most of their degrees can be achieved at a community college or public university. Students who transfer to public or non-profit privates often find that very few of their credits actually transfer, so it takes them longer to complete and costs them vastly more to do so. And they almost all are less than transparent when it comes to financial aid and have some shady practices when it comes to private loans. I’ve had students come to us with 60 credits and tens of thousands in federal and private loans and only have a few credits transfer in. It’s infuriating and sad.
The government has an obvious interest in a higher ed system that is somewhat efficient, that allows students to fail without ruining them, and where four-year and community colleges stay in their lanes. The rocket fuel of financial aid, from what I saw, fucks with each of those goals. Colleges had “free money” that made them less efficient. Student failure led to burden, and there was duplication of effort between two-year and four-year schools. Private for-profit schools probably shouldn’t be allowed access to federal financial aid — it’s just too much of an incentive for them to screw kids.
I agree with your first and last sentence, but everything in the middle is up for a lot of debate.
So, this whole fucking mess needs to be unfucked. The first step is to try to address the inequity of giving kids massive loans. It is fundamentally unjust to allow kids who can’t even drink legally to commit themselves to a lifetime of debt. Free community college is a good next step. But the real answer is affordable public higher education, just like the least-great generation, the boomers, had. Unfortunately, around the mid-90s, we just decided that couldn’t happen. Now, Democrats are stuck with yet another unfuck that will make a lot of people unhappy.
To be fair here, it is mostly parents at my institution who are taking the most risk and debt on in my experience. Students can only receive enough federal loan funding as allowed by the federal loan system. The maximum a dependent student can borrow in the Direct Loan program (used to be called the Stafford Loan) over his/her college career is about $31K. Anything over and above that would be paid either by the parent through a Federal Direct Parent PLUS Loan or a private educational loan. The PLUS is purely parent debt and cannot be put off on the student at a future date. Private loans cannot be obtained by the student unless he/she has a credit worthy co-signer. One thing I would love to see is in regard to private educational loans and it should be a fairly simple fix. Currently, they are treated exactly the same as federal loan debt if a borrower files for bankruptcy in that they cannot be discharged like other consumer debts. They are forever. Stop that and it will make many people’s lives better. It’s small step that will give relief to a lot of people.
I am perfectly willing to answer questions (hopefully, I can answer them!) or discuss anything above or any other topic regarding financial aid, such as FAFSA questions. Also, if anyone has questions or wonders about what the VA educational benefit programs are these days, I’m happy to answer those questions, too.
Thanks for the post. It is hard to tell for sure, but it seems that on average our students here are struggling more with the upper division major courses than they were say 10 to 15 years ago. The higher costs today cannot be helping them as it adds another layer of stress and anxiety.
For the sake of discussion, here is our experience with college search and college costs for my daughter who is a HS senior and will be entering college in fall 2021.
Financially we are reasonably well off. I am a teacher and my wife is a primary care doctor so our income puts us in a place where our Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is in the $75,000 range which is about full ticket price for the most expensive private schools on the west coast like Reed Pomona, and Stanford.
We don’t however, feel that super well off. My wife is an immigrant and so started her medical career here in the US about 10 years behind her peers in terms of age. And we are also supporting her elderly parents back in Chile as well as a cousin who has a daughter with a congenital disease that requires intensive nursing care. So our disposable income is less than appears on paper, and we don’t have huge amounts saved for retirement or lots of home equity like some peers. We also want to retire some day and have another daughter who’s in 9th grade so we have 8 years of tuition payments upcoming.
We visited about 20 different schools on the west coast including public universities, Catholic universities, top private universities, and private liberal arts colleges. Daughter wants to study molecular biology and genetics and probably pursue graduate work (not a medical career) so that gives her lots of options. She has straight-As and high SATs taken early in her Junior year before the pandemic shut it all down and the usual array of extracurriculars which makes her a good candidate for admission to all but the most elite schools. She ended up not wanting to apply to any of the really elite schools like Stanford because she was sick of the rat race and so applied to 3 in-state public school (UW, WWU, and WSU) one out-of-state public (UO), and six private schools, mostly in the Northwest (Whitman, Reed, University of Puget Sound, Lewis & Clark, Occidental, and Gonzaga).
Schools we visited but she didn’t apply to are: Santa Clara, USF, Stanford, Pomona, Scripps, Claremont-McKenna USC, Loyola-Marymount, Chapman, University of Portland, and Oregon State.
She has heard from and been accepted to all the schools she applied to except UW which apparently releases its acceptance letters in mid-March. And every school has also included some sort of merit aid package in their admissions letters except for Reed (which doesn’t do merit aid) and Occidental, which didn’t offer any.
At this point UW is probably her first choice for public schools and Whitman is her first choice for private schools. But honestly, she will probably be fine at any of these schools. But right now she is holding out for admission to UW and the UW Honors College and will probably know in 2-3 weeks.
Here is the actual range of costs for the 10 schools in question from lowest (WWU) to highest (Reed). I posted a link to my actual spreadsheet as it’s hard to copy and paste here. These are real-life numbers based on actual admissions and financial aid offers. The spread is almost $60,000/year.
No real question for geg6. Just a reality check for the audience as to what college expenses look like for a typical upper middle class family that isn’t anticipating much if any need-based financial aid. I shudder to think what our costs would look like if our daughter was a more mediocre student who didn’t qualify for much merit aid.
Not a single-mom, a single father, raising four kids alone while transitioning out of woods-work (logging) to what was promised to be a lucrative computer career, student loans were about half my income. I look back on it now and see it as a bad investment, no return on the debt I incurred, but at the time (early nineties) and place (Montana) it was the most efficient means I could find to provide for my family, to be an effective single-parent. It was readily available, all it took was a little effort (3.+ GPA), not unlike having a job. I was not unconcerned, I walked into with both eyes wide open.
And though a bad investment, it’s not like the education was without value.
@Ten Bears: I’m a HS teacher and I see the kinds of kids who tend to go on to successful computer and coding type careers. They are the ones who at age 15 are hacking their phones and spending most of their waking moments in the computer labs or hacking away at something. Often they are way beyond their computer science teachers in ability. I have often wondered how mid-career types switching from blue collar careers like mining and timber into coding can possibly compete with these young digital native computer savants.
I don’t have a question either as my oldest child just entered middle school this year, but I wanted to thank geg6 for sending in this response.
I’m here, so ask away!
Just to give an idea of our costs at my campus…
In-state tuition is about $14K per year. If a student lives on campus, housing is about $12K per year.
Cost of Attendance (COA) is the number that it costs a student to attend and includes both direct costs (tuition and room/board) and indirect costs (books, travel expenses, loan fees, personal expenses), which are estimated based on the cost of living in that area. COA for an in-state student who lives on campus is about $29K.
About 1/3 of our students live on campus or in off-campus housing. 2/3 of our students are commuters. Those commuters save a huge amount. COA for them is about $21K.
ETA: As you can see, for the public, flagship university in the state, our costs are very high compared to many other states’ flagship institutions.
The Moar You Know
I’m just going to throw this out here; what the hell happened to college costs? My brother and I both went at the same time, same UC school in the late 1980s, and we both got through the entire program for the cost of a decent midline car (my brother). I was half the price as I’d done two years of community college, which I was able to pay for myself by working a job that didn’t pay even double minimum wage. My two years cost the equivalent of a decent entry-level car. Call my all-in costs for two years 10 grand, 1989 dollars. My brother’s – 20k.
Fifteen years later, my sister did four years at Wake Forest, and that cost at the time the same as a decent condo in California. Think she was about 125k for four years.
Last I saw in the 00s, college (UC system) was then costing students the equivalent of a new luxury SUV each year. About 50-60 grand a year.
Now, my brother is a professor at Champaign-Urbana and he’s got his suspicions about what has caused this insane rise in costs, but I’d like to hear yours if you can spare the time.
The Moar You Know
@Kent: They don’t. I work in that field. A substantial number of those “digital native” kids can’t get jobs. The guys who are “transitioning” will never get a job in the field.
The STEM jobs that everyone was promised are just not there, and never will be. Quite a few are getting either automated or outsourced out of existence. If I were a parent, I’d send my kid to plumbing or electrician’s school.
My company closed their coding division in 2008, by way of example. We do IT/network/security support for the military now, which is super-specialized – if you didn’t get that experience in the military, we cannot hire you. Software dev work is almost gone. The IT support jobs should just about be gone in ten years. I’ll be retiring before then. Involuntarily, I suspect.
A couple of additional points: The worst abuses of Financial Aid have always been the for profit private schools. Possibly not all of them, but the big abuses involving student loan debt have been this type. Usually the Department of Ed (Federal) will spot problem schools and try to expel them from Federal aid eligibility. The schools of this type fight it in court and enlist help from their Congresspeople who are often able to protect them. Apparently they are big political donors or it turns out the community they are in needs the jobs. There really needs to be a way for the Department of Ed to get rid of the problem schools in a more timely way.
Most of the other problems I am aware of are simple the state not funding enough of the school costs because they don’t want to tax. I gave up avoiding suggesting loans more than 20 years ago because the alternative was most people not going to college. For average lifetime earnings and stability of employment college overall is still really necessary. Individual lives may work out differently, but overall the stats are pretty clear. My own life is proof of that. I dropped out and barely got by with frequent family help in low wage jobs, went back at 30 and have been employed with pension and health insurance ever since. I had cancer and my health insurance and wages handled it with no problem. I would have died probably without that college degree and the job I got from it. But I was also building on my parents having been to college in an earlier generation to get through.
States need to tax and spend more and I don’t even see how the Feds can push that. It stems from the voting population not understanding the benefits of spending on infrastructure. That is what education is, a kind of support structure that leads to a more prosperous overall society.
@Kent: My older son graduated from HS in 2015. All we looked at were SLACs. First observation is that, yes the EFCs are insane. Second, it is a crapshoot. Colleges that seem to be equivalent in ranking might offer wildly different packages. One school with a tuition over over 50K basically offered my son a free ride, another school (and where my father went, to boot) offered him almost nothing. These are schools that were & are rated almost the same. He applied to 14 schools in the East, Midwest, and South. Ended up going to what was, after everything is taken into consideration , the 3rd or 4th cheapest. He graduated with 17K in loans. I would suggest to anyone to avoid taking on massive debt, either as a student or a parent.
@The Moar You Know:
It’s a very complex problem and I’m not sure I have any answers. However, I can point to some of the reasons. First and probably the most important is the lack of state funding that all public schools used to get, no matter what state we are talking about. If you read what said about our state funding level, you can see how little we get from tax payers. I went to another large public research university here as an undergrad in the early 80s and my tuition costs (not including any housing, etc.) was about $6K a year. My parents had six kids and could only provide a little help to each of us, so I had to finance a large part of that through federal loans. I graduated with about $12K in debt because I qualified for state grant funding and some scholarships.
Another issue is that as jobs moved more and more into STEM areas, quality faculty became more and more expensive, as experts in those areas became more and more difficult to recruit and retain. They could earn vastly more in the private sector than they could ever earn as a college professor. Salaries had to increase to stay competitive.
Another issue is that for many years following the Boomers’ college years, the pool of high school graduates decreased steadily for decades. Competition for those students increased and that competition meant that both public and privates had to provide not just academic excellence to compete, but also amenities had to live up to the competition. It costs a lot to provide those amenities and you can’t compete without them.
There are many other things I’m not thinking of right now, but the above are very important things that go into that vast increase in cost.
The one that really pisses me off is the “Hope Scholarship” in Georgia. Boortz used to call it a “tax on the stupid to send advantaged kids to college.” It’s a lottery funded scholarship that has grade requirements making it totally slanted in favor of middle-class suburban school students. Fuck LBJ once called the WW2 Gi Bill the “greatest economic flywheel in the history of the US” because it afforded educational and housing opportunities to those who previously could not afford them. Of course the way to get something passed here in Georgia is to give shit to white folks.
@The Moar You Know: As a prof I think a lot of it is administrative bloat. My school keeps adding Vice-Presidents, and we keep having more and more reports on our students to turn in every year. Little of this seems to translate into directly helping students. In the meantime due to budget constraints our administration last year suddenly stopped contributing into our retirement accounts. “Sorry, must make sacrifices. BTW, have you meet our new Vice-President in charge of Cafeteria Food?”
Geg6 also answered with other factors, and I agree with her, especially on STEM salaries and making the campus nicer to compete for HS students)
Haha, very good point.
@Van Buren: Merit aid seems to mainly be a pricing mechanism. The top public and top private schools don’t offer any. The next tier down publics and privates offer just enough to attract the best students away from the top schools.
So the sweet spot seems to be private schools that need your child’s stats to boost their own.
In our case, UW is easily the premier public school in the Pacific Northwest. They offer no merit aid. All the other flagship public schools in the region that compete with UW offer various forms of merit aid to compete with UW and sweeten the pot for the top students. My daughter received merit aid offers from all of them.
Likewise, the top private schools also offer no merit aid. We looked at my alma matter, Reed College in Portland. They offer zero merit aid to any student. Over 50% of their student body is on full-pay which means they basically just write the $75,000 annual tuition check. The other top west coast schools like Stanford, USC, Pomona, etc. are all exactly the same. They don’t have to offer any merit aid to attract top students from wealthy families so they don’t. It would just be money thrown away. By contrast, all the second tier private schools have pretty generous merit aid offerings to attract top students away from Reed/Stanford/Pomoma, etc. It’s all a pricing mechanism.
Here in the Portland metro we have two private liberal arts colleges, Reed and Lewis & Clark. Due to merit aid, Lewis & Clark comes in about $40,000/year cheaper for my daughter. Is Reed $40,000/year better for someone who intends to go on to graduate school? I think not. If we were much less wealthy then the two schools would have similar price tags or Reed might even be less expensive and it would be a different decision. But in our shoes it is really hard to justify paying full freight when we have much cheaper alternatives.
@CliosFanBoy: It’s not just administrative bloat.
I attended UW-Seattle for grad school in the early 1990s and have been around that school off and on ever since. Yes there is administrative bloat, but also the student amenities have skyrocketed. Dorms are more posh, with things like suite rooms and private bathrooms. The dining halls are more like upscale restaurants in their food offerings. Student sports and fitness facilities have exploded. And the teaching and research infrastructure has just exploded. The new biology and science facilities at UW are breathtakingly better than the concrete monstrosities they used to have. Full of glass and natural light and amazing spaces. High-tech wired classrooms beyond anything we could imagine 30 years ago in our old lecture halls. There is also something of an arms race for top professors, especially in STEM fields. This may not just be salaries, but things like lab space, teaching loads and such. A school like UW doesn’t see itself competing against nearby Washington State or Oregon State. It sees itself competing against UC Berkeley and Michigan and so is in an arms race against those other top 10 public universities.
At the same time, state support has steadily declined. Not as badly in Washington as some other states. But it has declined. Especially as a percentage of population since the state is rapidly growing.
So that is your pinch. Rapidly escalating costs combined with shrinking subsidies. The result is the tuition and fees squeeze that we see today.
I’d like to add some other details. geg6 mentioned several times that her state has higher costs of attending than most. this makes a huge difference to well everything. Florida has many problems but our tuition and I think living costs tend to come in at the lower end of the scale. UF COA yearly tuition for instate runs around $6000 and total cost of attendance runs around $21,000. Most of cost of attendance is room and board. Tuition isn’t nothing, but it’s not actually the thing that stops students from affording it. You would pay for food if the child stayed at home so that isn’t the big cost, it’s as if you have to afford a second house on an ordinary salary. Most people don’t expect to buy a second house.
We don’t have a big state grant, just a small one that most people don’t get because it runs out. Pell and federal loans do mostly cover the costs. We are such a bargain that we are very competitive to get into and that is where the poor and even middle class lose out. Going to the best schools helps there. Most of our freshmen, about 90% of them earn the state merit scholarship which is more than the pell grant and really cuts their costs. My understanding though, is that our school gets most of the scholarship students and the other schools in the state don’t have that. I have also noticed that most of them, have higher costs of attendance than we do. Most of the figures I have seen all seem to be pretty close to us really. Apparently being older, having already built an endowment and already paid for buildings is a big help. Even some of the community colleges cost more than we do even though their tuition is lower. We have 12 State Universities and most were founded after 1960 and we have 28 State Colleges. Some of them are huge.
Florida also early on established the common course numbering system which essentially makes almost all credit earned at one, transferable to any other state school. For poorer people that is a huge deal in that if you have to move because of a job or parents job, you can still keep making progress. They can also start earning some college credit while still in high school through dual enrollment. Some college classes are taught at the high school and some high schools students actually commute and take classes at local colleges and Universities. It can speed up college graduations.
One issue that doesn’t get talked about a lot in terms of college costs is degree inflation. Many careers such as accounting and physical therapy now require a Masters instead of a Bachelors and other jobs require certifications, such as being a pharmacy tech. There is no way paying a private school over $10,000 for a certification that will give you a job that tops out around $15/hour makes sense.
@The Moar You Know: I disagree with some of what you say about coding jobs. I’m a software developer working on a large, complex web application in the health care area. When we hire, it takes a while, because at least in certain areas developer talent is in high demand and short supply. Most developers I know have no problem finding work, assuming their skill set is up-to-date. Not a week goes by without a recruiter cold emailing me trying to fill an open position.
IT support is another story. Much of that is being outsourced or automated from what I can see.
I did my (attempted) degree *mumble* years ago and made a very bad choice. I went for a local private school that cost more a year than my single mother made. I got a lot of of grants and aid and a lot of loans. My final year I couldn’t put together enough money and had to leave school with no degree and much debt.
I got lucky and dug my way out of it. I’m in computer technology which isn’t quite as hung up on degrees as the rest and got hired into a local firm without the degree but at a lower salary. Lots of years later and a few job hops I’ve paid off the loans and I’ve gotten myself to the area median salary so I’m doing fine.
Still a bit behind where I could be. By the time I could afford to finish up the degree it was long enough out and the program had changed enough that I had about 1/3 of the degree to redo, so I never did. I’m behind colleagues who went back for a masters or MBA and it’s likely I get passed over for some job opportunities on the first pass resume review. But that’s so much better than where I could be.
All this is before the explosion of costs. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to dig out of now and in a field that is picky about degrees
@The Moar You Know: I can’t speak to state universities, but I went to a very small liberal arts college that had a not crazy tuition/room and board at the time (about $9000 combined in the mid-80’s). In my time there, tuition went up $1000/yr. After I graduated, tuition went up $2000/yr, until it was over $60K. I could not account for this, as professors did not get paid very much, but I did see a ballooning of administrative positions for jobs the impact of which was opaque to me (it seemed to mostly be dividing up tasks which one person had previously done.) The school has a very limited plant and facilities, so that wasn’t where money was going. I had the opportunity to speak to a President and ask him why tuition had gone up by $50K in 25 years, and he told me that they felt they had to be competitive in price with highly ranked colleges, I.e., that if they had a lower tuition, prospective students or parents would think the value of the education was lesser as well and decide to go somewhere else. I told him this was crazy, for a number of obvious reasons, not the least of which was that many students and parents would be unaware that, with financial aid from the school, the actual price could be far lower (half or less).
A few years ago, with a new President in place, the school dropped its tuition to the mid-30,000s, and enrollment and retention of students went up.
I agree that there is administrative bloat. But I see it completely differently, which may simply be specific to my own institution. None of the administrative bloat on my campus is due to having too many VPs in charge of cafeteria food type bloat. It is almost totally in the academic area. We have two directors who run the housing and food service area and they have about 10 food workers and dormitory janitorial workers. We have one financial aid person (me) and two admissions counselors under our director of enrollment. We have one person as registrar, three IT people and an AD and assistant AD. We have six people in student affairs, including two live-in residence life coordinators and a mental health couselor. We have two people development, raising funds for scholarships, etc. We have a school nurse and one person who runs the tutoring center. And we have a three person business services offices. Everything else is under academics. There are department heads (even on such a small campus as mine, we have about 12 of them). We have what we call the DAA (the director of academic affairs, which would be the equivalent to a provost or vice president), we have our chancellor. Each of them has four staff assistants and at least one assistant director. We have a library staffed by four people. They have removed the stacks because students don’t use them and almost everything they do is electronically stored. We lab assistants so that faculty don’t have to do any prep or cleanup in the labs.
I feel we aren’t providing enough services to students simply because the service areas (such as my own, where I do all financial aid plus being VA Certifying Official) are not staffed adequately to provide good service. I am told I do a great job, but it is very stressful and my work load is gigantic compared to the load faculty and their bosses carry. I’d be willing to bet that you have staff at your institution who can tell similar stories.
I know that I, personally, get really tired of faculty who do not value or even understand what staff do or what they deal with. Not all faculty are that way and I’m not saying that’s how you are, but when I hear faculty complaining about “administrative bloat,” it feels a bit rich to me.
Thanks for this, geg6!
I was very fortunate to be able to go to an expensive college (U of Chicago ’79-’83) before the slope of costs went fully vertical. My first quarter tuition was $1500 list price. I think it more than doubled by the time I graduated. :-/
But I didn’t pay that, because my mom was a union secretary there and one of the benefits was free tuition for children who attended there. We never would have been able to afford it otherwise. Few parents are able to pack up and move with their kid to a different city and get a job at the school to get that benefit… I don’t know if that full benefit exists now, or if it’s been cut in half (as seems to be the case at other institutions from reading other comments here). But even with that, I had almost $10k in loans accumulated by the time I graduated.
It’s good that sensible colleges are still working to find ways to make it possible for the non-wealthy to attend. But the system is still broken and effectively impoverishing young people who are starting out (and older people who are trying to change careers).
We know that progress is incremental. I hope that Biden and the democrats pass meaningful fixes that give some quick relief while also laying the foundation for bigger structural reforms.
Maybe I missed it in the discussion, but there’s an additional component: Creeping Credentialism.
Requiring someone to go 50K plus in debt to get a Bachelors’ degree in order to qualify for a Customer Service Call Center job is just BANANAS. Finishing college seems to be a convenient HR stand in for “Will complete work they’re assigned.”
The problem needs addressing at a even higher level than the academic. But even in that arena, I think funding some kind of Pell Program on a sliding scale such that no one leaves higher ed with more than a good new cars’ worth of debt, 25 to 30K tops for families pulling down 400K in earnings a year and funding greater amounts as you move down the curve until you end up at 1K would be good.
I don’t think a 4 year University should be free (I like the community college idea though), as I have noted that unless you pay SOMEthing, you tend to take it for granted and are more than a little cavalier about it. College Profs I know at a major Big 10 Uni have noted how much some of the kids phone it in…I can’t imagine how much worse that would get if you and your family had nothing on the line.
But certainly, don’t graduate with a house worth of debt, and no way to earn enough to keep up on the damned INTEREST for god’s sake. College should cost, but not an arm and two legs.
@CliosFanBoy: Administrators love to add more administrators. Whether any student or professor is helped by it is really irrelevant.
@The Moar You Know: You’ve nailed every reason why I’m not doin’ it.
Re. my kids, my daughter is (on my recommendation) in a Health Info Tech certification program that looks to deliver on the promises my MS is CS never did. M’son did the forestry program, and is building houses ;) Truth be told blogging probably comes closest to utilizing my academic training as anything I’ve ever been paid for.
I just want to thank geg6 for this post. As someone who has been in higher ed forever–a poor kid on a SLAC full ride, getting my Ph.D as a teaching fellow, then becoming a 20+ year adjunct instructor because of an unreasonable humanities job market, and now a parent with one kid at a horribly expensive school and one getting ready to start applications–I have watched all this happen like a slow-motion train wreck. We were lucky enough to start 529s with an inheritance when my kids were babies, and they recovered after the 2008 flatline (thanks, Obama!). That’s the saving grace for us. College is horribly, horribly expensive. My super-overachiever oldest kid would have still had to pay 10K out of pocket for our state university (Tennessee, NOT Michigan or Virginia). He got into Berkeley and UCLA, but both would have been 60-60K per year out of pocket because of OOS tuition. His private university gives us about 50% of costs in institutional aid (grants).
My second kid is more middle-of-the-road, so we are worried enough about his acceptances, much less ever getting aid. I feel like you can be a really solid 17-year-old applicant, and you are basically jumping through hoops to try to be good enough to hand over 60K a year to a school. And I don’t even mean to complain, because I know how very lucky and privileged we are. But thank God for that 529 decision my husband made when we were younger and poorer and could’ve used that money for other things.
I know the answer to my question is “It depends”, but I’ll ask it anyway:
For a typical family (I guess 2 adults, 2 children), where on the income spectrum does need-based aid typically stop? That’s not my demographic (5 kids – last year we had 3 in college at the same time).
I think my kids are all going to end up with something in the $20-30k range of student loan debt (not private student loans). Once all my kids are done with school, I suspect we will probably help out the ones that are not in the engineering/tech fields repay their loans. My oldest’s new company pays $100/month toward his student loan debt as a way to attract talent (tech industry)
@Kineslaw: PT is now a PhD program in many schools. My knee replacements PT had his program change from an MS to PhD while he was in it, which significantly increased his educational costs.
Gotta say, I’m with you on students having skin in the game. I don’t want 4-year colleges to be free. I see too many students who don’t have any skin in the game who skate by without ever working hard in or out of the classroom. Knowing you have to pay on your loans when you leave is motivation for many students who may not necessarily take their education seriously without it.
I couldn’t agree more but if one graduates with say $20,000 in debt, that’s money that doesn’t go to a house down payment. If parents shoulder it, that can reduce their quality of life spending, retirement plans and sometimes health outcomes. Bless you for working so diligently to get people the educations they need to succeed and to make a better country but countries wealthy and not so wealthy have prioritized education so as not to burden its citizens with debt. They recognize it as a shared investment that pays back more. We can dump on politicians like Bernie with their “free college” platform but we do need to free education from this debt model.
@Another Scott: ::waving:: I think you advised me back when my eldest was deciding on his **now very expensive** school, UChicago! Yep, 80K a year with housing, meals, and fees. Seriously. It seems completely nuts. It IS completely nuts.
I can’t complain about the education he is getting. It is absolutely more difficult than the good private school I teach at here in the South. The stuff he talks to me about blows my mind. But is it worth *that* kind of money?
As a High School teacher, I’m very curious about hearing more about grade inflation problems. One of the constant battles we have at my workplace is the usually well-intentioned desire of parents and administration to pump up GPAs and push the college track on students. I’m wondering if you see these kinds of impacts at the university level. Here are some scenarios I’m talking about. All of these relate to Junior/Senior level issues by the way and not the 9th and 10th graders who are still growing brains.
Anyone who looks at those examples and thinks that’s wildly awful and unethical, I agree and we have different admin now. At the time, the focus was 100% on just getting college admissions to use as a recruitment statistic, it’s better now, but I’m curious if that kind of practice is noticeable on your end of things, perhaps it just fades into the background churn of students dropping out.
@Kent: I agree with you and cliosfanboy–at both the school I work at and the one I send my kiddo to, it appears expanded admin costs and infrastructure / amenities have ballooned like crazy over the last 20 years. I wish I knew what the solution was. I know all too well the money isn’t going to instructors, library development, or other academic improvements.
This reminds me of those semi-redacted charge sheets: “PERSON-ONE, who was the Republican party candidate for President in 2016, met with DEFENDANT in June 2016…”
I have absolutely nothing relevant to add, though I read this with interest since I have a nephew and niece entering college in a few years and will probably be asked to help with costs.
@geg6: I take your point about the distinction between administrative bloat and academic bloat. But I think for most parents standing on the outside this is a distinction without a difference.
As a parent paying tuition, it makes zero difference to me whether the bloat is in the form of assistant deans attached to the university administration, or whether it is in the form of extra administrative assistants and support staff for academic chairs in research departments. It all raises the bottom line.
Your comment about hired lab assistants to set up and break down science labs so students don’t have to do that sort of grunt work interested me since I spent many years in academic science and never experienced such a thing. Are these work-study “make work” jobs for undergrads that are essentially a form of financial aid? Or are these hired staff like custodial staff that do this full time?
@Tim C.: At some recruiting session, I’m sure I heard either one of the guidance counselors or college recruiter say they are aware of what high schools do grade inflation. I would hope so. I know when I was in high school, a B in an honors class was worth more on your GPA than a B in a non-honors class. Seemed crazy (still does) to me.
@Central Planning: Well, as you said, it depends. It depends on all the factors that are part of the FAFSA formula (student income/assets, parent income/assets, how many in the household, how many children in the household are in college, age of the older parent, and whether the student is considered dependent or independent), which financial aid programs we are discussing (federal v. state, grant programs that each have their own eligibility requirements, work study, subsidized v. unsubsidized loans, scholarship criteria, etc., etc., etc.), available institutional funding and what the COA is at a particular school. All of those factors come into play. Some financial aid defines need as the financial situation of the family. Some define it as “remaining need,” meaning that the student will still have a balance when taking COA and the student’s other aid into account. So it can be hard to pinpoint when need-based aid eligibility ends because there are so many definitions of it.
We are in the middle of this. Out two oldest are out of college, the oldest through grad school with significant loans, the second starting med school in the fall. Our third is a high school junior, so next year is applications and the youngest is still middle school. Our frustration had been that the financial aid formulas ignore family size (other than simultaneous attendence, which doesn’t help us). Our income places us at the reverse sweet spot. Our kids have ranged from strong academic records to exceptional. If we made less, we would qualify for more aid, even full tuition at the top schools. (And represent a small percentage of our family income). If we were wealthy, the cost would be insignificant to irrelevant (and also represent a small percent of our income). We sit at on the bubble where every extra dollar earned is a dollar less of aid, whereby we now are at the point of getting little to nothing. If it was one or two, we would suck it up and think of it as the luxury good we pay for over time and be saving money elsewhere. However, with 4 it’s really gotten out of reach. Had tuitions tracked inflation from when we went, it would be back to painful but a sacrifice we are very willing to make. The buffer has been some grandparent help but that has ended. Not so much a question as just an observation. (And top schools answers are, we don’t have to offer you more money because we have a wait list of students (parents) that would kill to pay full price to attend.
Fascinating thread; thank you geg6 and commenters! I had a few things in my favor, including the fact that my sister was only two years behind me, meaning my parents filled out the financial aid forms with two kids in college. I graduated in 1981 from Ohio SPLAC with less than $5k in debt. Grad school (UChi) was much worse–$60k of debt, for a degree I never used as intended. Pastry school was moderately priced–$16k–but was a very good program for what I wanted. Even though THAT career choice didn’t work out, either, I still think that, given my hopes/dreams at the time, those loans were a reasonable investment. My older nephew, however, has had a different experience. He was a D1 athlete for a few years, so had a bunch of his costs covered by that, AND he was a good student, so also qualified for some merit-based aid. (when he was first thinking of where to apply, he wasn’t aiming high enough academically, so I, the most-educated member of the family, took it upon myself to say hey, your athletic ability is a lever to get you the best EDUCATION you can get; you’re not going to be a professional athlete. He actually listened to me.) He just got a job offer–$75k plus $10k signing bonus–in a job that I think will be great for him, and will get his chem engineering degree in May. He also worked his butt off at his co-op job (they wanted to hire him but he hated the culture there), and he will actually end up reporting to a long-time family friend, but I truly believe that he wouldn’t have gotten through the five rounds of interviews, family friend notwithstanding, without having what it takes to succeed at this job. And he completely ignored his debt. He apparently told his parents he didn’t want to know what it was until now, figuring that he’d just figure it out. His debt will likely be much more than mine, but his job is also much better than I was able to find upon graduation (lots of reasons for THAT, too).
@geg6: Thanks. That makes my next question: why is it that way?
My conspiracy hat makes me say it’s to make it impossible to compare packages between schools until you’re down to the last second comparing the bottom line vs the value you think you will get.
Do you think that’s true?
One other question: Does a child selecting early admission (or is it early action?) on their application impact the aid that schools give to them? I would imagine if I knew student A really wants to go to my university, I could give them less aid than student B who is interested but has options to go somewhere else.
Isn’t there also a rapidly approaching “baby bust” that’s going to result in a lot fewer college age kids in general, but before we get there it will be capacity constrained as the current large number of kids pass through the system? I recall this being discussed before Covid took over the discourse.
The expensive STEM school we used to live near embarked on a building boom about 5 years ago; housing was a distinct need though a large Welcome Centre was built (bye bye parking!) and new science buildings (often with significant corporate contributions like from Coors).
@Tim C.: I’m a HS teacher too. I haven’t personally experienced the kind of grade pressure you describe. But then I tend to nip it in the bud early on, anytime I have students who are struggling early in the semester. I generally communicate with parents midway through the semester about why their child is struggling and what it is going to take to earn an A, B, or C in the class from that point forward. So when we reach the end of the semester I can say “these were the things that your child needed to do to earn an A or B in my class. This is what they actually did.”
I do fear that grade pressure is going to increase more post-Covid as so many schools are abandoning standardized testing like the SAT for admissions. Without the SAT, all that is really left is grades as all the essays and such can be gamed by consultants and hired guns. I see that as problematic.
What I would like to see is the required HS standardized testing be combined with college admissions testing. If the kids in my state need to pass standardized math, English, and science tests in order to graduate HS (what they actually call tests of college readiness) then the state should REQUIRE colleges and universities to use those test scores for college admissions and not the SAT/ACT. At least require it of all the public universities.
It makes ZERO sense to me to test all HS students in math and English for HS graduation, and then do the same thing again for college admissions. Just give them all one test during junior year of HS and be done with it.
I can’t speak for other institutions but those simply aren’t factors here. Not that we don’t have parents who try this stuff, it’s just that they have nowhere to go with their complaints. First, because students are over the age of 18. we have no obligation to discuss anything about students with parents as we are required by FERPA to keep anything about the student private unless we have written permission from the student specifically pinpointing what we are allowed to discuss. Second, even if the student gives permission to discuss everything, none of that requires faculty to talk to parents at all. And they won’t. And third, if we did that for any students, it would absolutely affect our reputation and standing in the academic community and, at our level, that simply can’t happen.
But we see a lot of that exact thing you discuss from the high school level. Which is why all of the current flux in admissions requirements and process I talked about in the OP are so troubling.
I may be remembering this incorrectly, but didn’t the Reagan Revolution have something to do with skyrocketing costs at the land grant colleges/universities. My recollection is that the federal funding for land grants went away. And yes, I am old and may be remembering this incorrectly. My apologies if someone already mentioned. I only read the first 10 comments and will go back and read now.
@Central Planning: It *IS* crazy. I know this is true in a lot of professions but when people chase metrics of quality instead of actual quality, everybody suffers. The comparison I use is it’s a lot like when hospitals got caught putting patients out in ambulances when they were near death so that their mortality statistics would go down. Yes, the metrics can be useful, but when we start manipulating them…. gah….
@geg6: And that matches what I see. Every time crap like that happens at our level the kid doesn’t even last a year at the college they, briefly, go to. The usual response from the previous admin was “Hey, they had a chance at college at least.”
Our lab assistants all have at least a master’s degree in their area. They are not uncredentialed staffers.
The FAFSA fomula takes household size into account. Anyone in your household who you support financially by at least 51% is counted as part of your household. You may have to provide verification of that, but it counts.
@Tim C.: Yeah, my big company likes metrics. I get why they are important. Every time there’s a new initiative and some metric to collect, I ask them “How do you know that’s the right metric?” I NEVER get a good answer to that :)
We also have people who believe metrics don’t matter. That has been driving me nuts. How do we know we’re successful if we don’t have metrics? You can see the result, but how do you know we got there the best/fastest/cheapest way?
@Central Planning: So we are going through all of this with our twins right now and the schools explained that you can potentially get more $$ if you do Early Decision/Action because it isn’t spoken for and there are not as many qualified candidates to compete against for it. I’m not sure that I buy this line, but that is how it was explained.
We are waiting to hear from some more schools, but outside of some of our state schools here in NC, we are looking at $30,000 or so a year at almost every private or out of state school with merit grants and limited scholarships.
You are talking about weighted vs unweighted GPAs. Some states do that where you get extra 5% or 10% GPA points for honors and AP classes. Texas is that way. Lots of kids with 4.5 and higher GPAs. Other states like Washington prohibit it and the highest GPA you can earn in any WA HS is a perfect 4.0
I expect university admissions is entirely aware of all of this and makes appropriate adjustments. They know what they are doing, and there aren’t any secrets.
In any event, as a HS teacher who has taught in 4 different school districts in 2 states over the past 2 decades, I have never seen any sort of grade standards imposed from above. I have always had full autonomy to give whatever grades I saw fit. In some cases there were extra steps you had to go through in order to actually fail a student. This is especially the case with Special Ed students. You have to carefully document that you met all of their special needs and the letter of their IEP. And at one school we were not allowed to fail seniors unless we documented parent contact in the spring semester informing the parent that their student was in danger of failing (and not graduating). The school was tired of having angry parents march into the office demanding to know why their student wasn’t able to graduate and why they were not informed in time to prevent it from happening. So every senior failing grade had to be accompanied by a form documenting when and how they parents were informed in advance.
But in terms of giving As, Bs, and Cs, I have always had autonomy. Often we had departmental exams so all the Biology teachers tried to be consistent in their grading. But that was about it.
West of the Rockies
My daughter is very fortunate in that our local CC in northern California provides two years free to local students. She will transfer to U of Oregon having paid nothing. I hope this becomes available to more nationwide under Biden.
U of O looks affordable and like it will provide a very good academic experience. We’ll see how grad school turns out.
@Kent: Do you teach in a big district? I ask as I have spent my entire career in a small, exurban district (200 kids in the HS) and while the smallness has advantages. The first 18 years I spent here, our board and admin were far from perfectly professional. A lot of the stereotypes about these communities are entirely accurate, but I would need about seven hours and about as many beers to go into all the effed-upedness that happened before we got a LOT better.
You aren’t completely wrong to have a lot of concerns about how to compare packages. There has been some movement on trying to address this at the federal level. Schools are now required to provide a standardized financial aid notification, an initiative of the Obama DOE. We are all allowed to create our own, but they all must provide clear information and explanations of the aid, must prominently provide billable costs, non-billable costs and information about the next steps the student must take to receive the aid.
As far as early admissions goes, at my institution, it actually works the other way around. We tend to give more of our merit based recruitment scholarships to students who are more likely to attend. These scholarships can range anywhere from $2K to $6K.
Are these ordinary TA or RA grad students on TA or RA grad stipends of the sort that have always existed in grad school? Or are these career positions that are separate from graduate study?
I guess times have changed. I worked through grad school as an RA and TA depending on the year and which professor I was working for. But we had no such hired professionals in our labs at UW. Only professors and grad students.
I can’t imagine having a whole separate staff of lab assistants who were not ordinary grad students. When I worked as a TA for undergraduate oceanography classes at UW we grad student TAs did absolutely every bit of the grunt work from setting up and breaking down labs to photocopying exams and assignments.
John H. McDonald
@Kent: I was chair of graduate admissions in biology at University of Delaware for a couple of decades, so I can assure your daughter that for someone planning on a research career in biology, she’ll be able to get into a good grad program no matter what undergrad school she chooses. We used to get applicants from Johns Hopkins and applicants from regional state schools and applicants from teeny-tiny SLACs, and the name of the school rarely came up in our admissions discussions.
As long as she gets decent grades, she just needs to get a bunch of research experience. It won’t matter whether that experience is doing cutting-edge research in the mega-lab of a Nobel Prize winner at UW, or counting onion cells along with one other undergrad in a closet-sized lab at Whitman, as long as she demonstrates motivation and enthusiasm for research by taking the initiative to do research.
Of course, there are lots of important differences between the schools she’s choosing from (four years in Seattle vs. four years in Walla Walla? Not exactly the same!), but “which school’s research reputation will help me get into grad school” shouldn’t enter into her decision at all.
Big and small but nothing nearly that small. In Texas I taught in a one-HS district with about 7000 students which meant the HS was a large 2500 student school. Here in WA I started teaching at a much smaller exurban district with a single HS in the 850 student range and now I split time between a big suburban district with 6 large high schools and a smaller suburban district with one comprehensive HS in the 2200 student range and two smaller alternative/magnet high schools in the 500 student range each.
Typically I’m used to teaching in high schools in which we have 4 or 5 teachers for each core subject (Biology, Physics, Chemistry, etc.) and a whole big array of electives. There is generally attempts to maintain grading consistency across identical core classes taught by different teachers. But teachers of advanced AP classes and electives are pretty much on their own.
I’ve never seen administrators override or second guess grading at any school I’ve taught at. You might wind up in a grade meeting with parents and an administrator or counselor. But I’ve found that they always support the teacher as long as you can show your work and aren’t being arbitrary. The exception is with special ed students. Woe is the teacher who fails a special ed student and then it is discovered that the teacher wasn’t following or was ignoring the student’s IEP. That failing grade will be reversed.
@Central Planning: Yes, it depends. ;-)
The University of Chicago had/has a policy that they’ll find a way for everyone admitted to be able to afford to attend. In my day, it was parents contributions, work-study jobs, summer jobs, federal grants, and loans. If that wasn’t enough, they’d juggle things around until it balanced. I believe some of the rich IVs are that way too.
Now whether parents could really pay the parents’ contribution – I’m sure that generated a lot of heartburn.
I like Hillary’s slogan – “debt free college”. Not free – there would still need to be work-study jobs, etc. – but not a huge financial burden that dogs students for years.
Lot of jackals already know where I work but didn’t want to name it in the OP. In case you are interested, it’s Penn State.
I work at a community college in PA. While not technically financial aid staff – my job position functions as a tier one Financial Aid person and during the pandemic 90% of my work involves answering aid questions sent to financial aid.
I see the above a lot. Students taking out around 5-15k a semester for 1.5 tuition which is completely covered by their Pell Grant. I also process withdrawals and it’s common to see them withdraw once their loans have paid. So they are taking on huge amounts of debt and not having any credit to show for it.
We try to mitigate this through counseling, pantry programs, help applying for benefits, grants, scholarships etc. Students have to meet with their advisor before their withdrawal request is processed so that they understand the consequences and potential to lose their aid due to lack of Academic Progress etc. but desperate folks will do desperate things.
I see a lot of very high private loans too and always cringe.
I do my best to assist students with considering other options and resources vs loans but at the end of the day it’s a matter of you can lead a horse to water.
In some cases, students have to take out loans because Pell is extremely insufficient for out of country residents. There are several counties we serve who do not have a community college – so out of county, at basically double tuition, is their only option. This is unfortunate. They are also much less likely to get scholarships from the foundation because they are usually limited to country residents. Fewer options to defray costs.
It is not uncommon to see students who crapped out at their community college show up to reset their academic progress for aid purposes. While that may be flagged as unusual enrollment history, and they’d still have to follow the aggregate loan limits, it does seem to often result in additional debts to lenders and the school with the same poor results regarding grades/earned credits.
They are not grad students, TAs or RAs. They are professionals.
Thanks. That is basically my impression too. She is very much a self-starter so I expect she will be fine no matter where she goes. Although if she goes to Whitman I doubt she will be counting onion cells in a closet. They have extremely impressive science facilities and a faculty that is jam packed with accomplished Ivy League types. I was pretty impressed when we toured. Walla Walla is a small town, but Whitman spares no expense in terms of facilities. They produce some top science there. We scratched off the list any schools that didn’t have state of the art biology facilities.
@Kent: Yeah, with you on the IEP thing there. We used to get all kinds of pressure, but usually, they would just go around faculty, sometimes changing grades with no notification at all. Their usual move was to change Ds and Cs into a “P” at the very end of senior year to inflate GPAs. I wish I was making this up. Again, most people focused on the unfairness of it to other kids, which is a real thing, but to circle back to the point of the thread, that kind of thing was most harmful to the kids who then went onto a college that had no fucks to give about the fact their daddy was on the school board back home. The “Get them into college and who cares after that” attitude hurts the kid as much as anyone.
Again, I need to be fair, we are in a much better place now with the new administration and so I’m hopeful we will keep things as they are.
@Kent: I’m plugging for my alma mater. Did she apply to UC Berkeley? When I went to school, it was considered top tier.
Having just one, now a college freshman, I’ll add that there seems to be lmited accommodation for highish incomes of folks living in high-cost areas when calculating the amount of financial aid (just like the Ryan-Trump tax bill with expensive Blue state residents). We couldn’t make the money work with every school the kid was accepted to and like a deus ex machina, D1 sports came to the rescue at the end.
You’d like to think you can learn and control the process, in practice not so much.
Did not see that one coming.
geg6, what do you think of the need-blind colleges and universities? I notice that yours is one; my undergrad is too (it is working its way up to need-blind/no loans status).
Berkeley is still a great school, uber-competitive to get into and for out of state students, brutally expensive (as are all UCs).
Jackal Martin has extensive knowledge of UCLA admissions, and the UC system overall. IDK how much Covid and the end of considering SATs are affecting things; we went through the process for HS class of 2020 and everything was completed and in motion before Covid hit.
* twice my phone decided I was talking about out of country- when I meant county. We do have those also but I’m not referring to F1 students here.
@Kent: When I was in college at Chicago, back in the dark ages, there was at least one old professional on staff who took care of the undergraduate physics labs. Made sure that students didn’t blind themselves with UV lamps, or open up the wrong valves in the mercury-containing pressure measurement gizmos, and took care of repairs and ordering new parts, etc.
So, it must depend on the school.
Two stories about the fucked up world of financing higher education:
High school senior gets recruited on a track & field athletic scholarship to attend a small private school. It was bait & switch from go, the track team was a joke and the scholarship vanished. The now-rising junior college student transitions to a state school, dragging with him many tens of thousands of dollars of debt, finishes out his degree in a low-opportunity field. Finds a family friend who is willing to pay off the significant debt in return for better private terms, but oh! Surprise! The debt has been purchased by a well-known credit card company that refuses to accept a payoff. That is, they will NOT ALLOW the debt to be paid in full, in cash. I pray all those involved at the private school and the loan shark agency burn in the lowest depth of the filthiest hell because the business model is to shackle young people with crushing debt for all time.
Two high school students, sisters actually, crack the books and buckle down all three years, take advanced placement courses, excel in their works. Both get accepted at a well-known state school that, lo and behold, gives them both full tuition rides if they complete their degrees, i.e. do all four years at this school. They have the time of their lives, and graduate with honors, completely debt free. In the same light, some of their peers graduate with many ten of thousands of dollars in debt, have to take shitty jobs to immediately start paying back the loans.
No solutions here, just ranting. Having spent 11+ years paying back my own debt from the early 90’s, I can attest firsthand that obligation set back home ownership and having children by more years than I care to admit.
ETA: thanks to geg6 for taking the time and interest to write this and answer questions. I very much appreciate it!
@Avalune: Does anybody know if something happened with recent iphone firmware updates? Spouse’s phone has started responding to random conversation bits, e.g., this morning Siri began giving driving directions to Duluth while she was talking to the dog.She’s not tech-savvy, I’m an Android guy and the kid is away and not available to mock her lack of knowledge. But I don’t want some house ghost giving advice.
@Central Planning: My University has enrollment of over 50,000 on the main campus. We simply do not bother to compare and “try” to attract specific students. We also don’t have enough funding to do that. All we need is a certain percent yield- students offered admission who show up and start. We still offer some extra for National Merit finalists but it’s not as generous as in state “rivals” and it’s nothing for semi-finalists, which many schools still offer merit aid for.
There is a nice scholarship for first generation students, about a 150 a year but they research those students alot. It’s hard to qualify. Last I heard, income cutoff was $30,000 a year for a family. Give us more money, and we’ll give more out.
Low Key Swagger
@geg6: Did you happen to know Dr, Laura Field? Also, there seems to be quite a few “elite” colleges that are what I think are called “needs blind?” So, our daughter was accepted into Vandy, and we were heartbroken because we didn’t think we could afford it. Turned out they scaled the costs based on income, and we were able to get her through debt free.
@gvg: No follow up comment, just a thanks for doing the AMA!
this is part of the issue these days. it’s always been easy to roll your eyes at someone who went 200K into debt getting an undergrad in psych from some hot school like stanford, where that degree will get you nowhere. it’s easy to say ‘dude, you want to work in psych you need a graduate degree, so go to a cheaper but still decent state school for undergrad and avoid the debt”.
thing is, the state schools are goin nuts with tuition too. upon graduating from my lower-tier school in illinois in 1998 i was left with a student debt load of about 18K. not great, not terrible. tuition was pretty low then, about 3500/yr. doing the same today at the same school would likely leave me with debt somewhere in the 60K range. and that’s for a pretty low-tier university that hasn’t gotten any better since i graduated; i mean, my brother used it as a stepping stone to an ivy league grad program but he’s a goddamn crazy genius, the school otherwise is not anything close to a feeder for elite school grad programs.
60K is certainly better than 200K when it comes to debt but 60K is a fucking lot. as somebody on twitter once put it in response to old folks’ arguments that they were able to work their way through college back in the day, that was back when tuition was two nickles and a promise to oppose communism.
@Omnes Omnibus: Not sure what you mean. We take need into account for most of our aid. And average student loan debt for our students is about $30K. Of course, that includes a ton of out-of-state students who have much higher costs than in-state.
ETA: I’m guessing you are mistaking Penn State for University of Pennsylvania. Completely different animals. PSU is a public, state-related university and Penn is an IL private.
Gotta turn that shit off pronto. Click here for a simple set of steps to disable Siri.
Working at a land grant university while just putting my children through a private school, an out-of-state public and an in-state public school puts me right in the middle of all of this – and it is a mess.
I once asked one of our administrators in the area why tuitions are so high and was told that the reason was, like hospitals and medical care, the sticker price tuition and the actual price – what the universities actually see as income – are different. For many if not most students, the dollars the university nets is a lot lower than the published tuition. What is more, the actual price is usually a percent of the sticker price, which makes the incentive to push up the sticker price pretty great. If every student had to pay for higher education out-of-pocket tuitions would plummet. There might be enough rich people who can write a check to send their kids to an Ivy League School at current prices, but not enough to populate all the other private liberal arts colleges and tony public Universities out there.
About the exploding number of administrative staff – much of that is due to outside pressures, not because the Dean of Paper Pushing wants a few Associate Deans of Paperclip Counting. Once upon a time, if a university researcher wanted to see how a drug affected a rat he got the manufacturer to donate the drug, bought some rats and a cage and got on with it. Then society decided that the rat should have a semi-decent life and an entire animal care and use infrastructure was spawned. Then someone else decided that the guy cleaning the rats’ cage should be protected and an occupational health infrastructure had to be put in place. Every decision about how things should be done at a University (let’s make sure the rat researcher doesn’t spend his grant money on a sailboat, let’s make sure he doesn’t release genetically altered viruses into the environment, let’s make sure he doesn’t sell his secrets to North Korea, etc etc etc) results in a few more administrative hires.
Part of the problem is societal pressure to pursue 4 year degrees.
I spent 10 years teaching HS science at a big affluent suburban HS in Waco Texas with about 2500 students. I mostly taught senior science courses and electives so had a LOT of college-bound seniors over the years, many of whom I followed post-graduation.
Waco is a medium size metro area of about 220,000 with three large institutes of higher education: (1) Baylor University which is a private Big12 school with about 20,000 students., (2) McLennan Community College which is the typical large 2-year school with about 10,000 students, and (2) Texas State Technical College, which is a 2-year tech school with about 12,000 students that does things like aircraft mechanics, pipeline welding, medical technology jobs, etc. etc. So students had a lot of options. And there were plenty of nearby 4-year state schools within 2-3 hours (UT, TAMU, UT-Arlington, UT-Dallas, Texas State, North Texas, etc.)
Every year at graduation the principal would do the same thing. He would ask everyone who was going on to college to stand and there would be a big round of applause. Then he would ask everyone going into the military to stand to more applause. And then students would look around to see which few losers there were in their midst who weren’t going to college or military. And basically no one would be left seated because who wants to be that loser?
The school newspaper did the same thing every May. They would interview or poll every member of the senior class as to their post-HS plans and then publish the entire list. So every student would get their name published along with something like Baylor University – Business, or US Marine Corps, or whatever. No one wanted to say “gonna work at Discount Tire”. So the default was MCC (local community college).
What would happen is that a whole bunch of relatively mediocre students would graduate HS and go straight to community college in pursuit of a 4-year degree. The idea was to “get the basics out of the way” to save money and then transfer to UT or Baylor or some other 4-year school. A few kids could make this work. Usually the really bright ones with difficult family situations that made going straight to a 4-year school difficult. Often kids of undocumented parents and that sort of thing, who needed to stay home to help out. But for the vast majority it was an exercise in failure. Many would get to community college and after a year they would discover that, yep. They really didn’t like English, math, and chemistry in HS and they still don’t like those same academic classes in college. And so they drift away and end up working at the local mall or Chilis like they did in HS. Except now they have $10,000 of student loans hanging over their head and no degree.
By contrast it was very very difficult to get kids to even look at 2-year technical college. That was seen as some sort of loser path. I knew the professor who taught pipeline welding and he basically had high-paying jobs waiting for every single kid who could get through their 2-year certification program. This was when the Permian Basin oil fields were still booming in the early 2000s. Not so much today. But the point is the same. A 2-year community college degree that was essentially a transfer degree to a 4-year school was seen as the recommended pathway. But a 2-year technical degree for a technical field like avionics or medical technology or something like that was not. Made me tear my hair out because I had so many students who were obviously not cut out for academia, but would follow down that pathway because that is what everyone was telling them to do.
Thank you! Forwarded to da boss.
@BruceFromOhio: Yeah, even though I’m free of all of the debt now–and I prioritized paying it off–it was a struggle to pay the grad school loans. When I finally got a job, I was still in deferment status for one of them; if my boss hadn’t engineered a raise for me, I would not have been able to survive once that deferment went away. And for a solid decade, I thought of those loan payments as two more bedrooms for which I was paying but didn’t get to occupy. I’ve tried to explain (esp. to my mom . . .) that the loans and grad school (and college) aren’t just about not earning money while you’re getting the degree, it’s also about not being able to save anything once you’re done. And I am relatively extremely fortunate in this regard!
Fascinating observation by mistermix (and confirmed to an extent in Geg6’s excellent guest post) regarding out of state students unprepared for college, or unprepared for their new environments. Indeed, if you decide after a semester in community college or your local Cal State campus that you’re not ready for college, the financial hit is negligible. But it’s become very popular here in LA for middling students to be lured to out of state campuses – generally better schools than they would have been able to attend in California. There’s a reason the kids call a certain legacy Pac-12 school UC Tucson. Anecdotally, it’s not unusual for these kids to realize that they are not (yet) college material, and leave after a year – after paying $25,000 in out of state tuition payments. Or decide that the Los Angeles-to-Iowa City transition is too much. So it seems like these out of state schools are doing local students who are negligibly college-ready a disservice by admitting them and assisting them in obtaining loans. But they clearly need the revenue that out of state students provide. I don’t have any answers, just a complaint (as per usual).
@geg6: Ah, that’s right you are on the aid side. I was talking about the admissions side. Schools that don’t look at need as part of the admissions process and guarantee an aid package that makes attendance viable to all admitted.
ETA: I do know the difference between Penn and Penn State.
@Kent: Wow. In my high school graduating class, only about half the students went on to ANY kind of education, and those of us who went to fancy-schmancy colleges were a tiny minority. My brother knew he didn’t want to go to college (to my parents’ dismay)–he got the tech school degree (auto mechanics), and is very bright, so he’s done okay financially, but he made sure my nephews did not have any interest in pursuing the same path. Turns out, working a job tarring the roads or mowing lawns in the summer heat is a powerful motivator to do well in college.
@Kent: My family fits your description: zero income-based financial aid as per FAFSA, but we don’t have so much money that we can spend unlimited money on our daughter’s education.
She’s a junior at the University of Cincinnati (which is like the University of Gondor – everything is uphill both ways). UC is a public school. Tuition and room and board are similar to UW – about $24K a year. She has a $1000 scholarship, which feels more like a discount than a scholarship but every little but helps. We’re paying for her Bachelor’s, but she’ll be on her own for graduate studies.
One of our campuses that I didn’t include in the campus count is a 4-year technical college, with bachelor degrees in welding, heavy equipment, etc. They have about 5K students on that campus. My ex was the welding instructor and, later, the coop coordinator at our local county vo-tech high school. He sent many of the best students at his school to what is called the Pennsylvania Technical College or Penn Tech. The kids who graduated from there got starting salaries at a level that only the engineering students at the rest of the University can dream of. If I had a kid that had any kind of technical talent, I would send that kid to Penn Tech.
We did a big CA road trip but didn’t explore or visit any UC schools. There didn’t seem to be any point. UC Berkeley would have been about $40,000 more than our in-state flagship UW-Seattle. Berkeley is a good school, but is it $40,000/year better than UW? I think not. Besides UW is just 3-hours away on the Amtrak Cascades so super convenient compared to Berkeley. We can drop her at the train station here in Vancouver. She rides up in comfort with WiFi and Latte service along the scenic Columbia and Puget Sound shorelines. At King Street Station in downtown Seattle she hops the subway and arrives at UW 15 minute later. Daughter doesn’t want to live at home, but doesn’t want to be really far from home either which makes UW perfect. So we only looked at private schools that were likely to offer some sort of merit aid to see if any were worth leaving the Pacific Northwest for. In the end Occidental is the only CA school that she applied to.
If she winds up pursuing graduate work in molecular biology or genetics then all the CA schools will still be there and will be theoretically much more affordable for grad studies if they are still doing TAs and RAs with tuition waivers for top grad students like they used to.
At a lunch with our University president at a reunion, she said exactly what your admin person did about tuition. The school’s list price is paid by very few but they have no objection to it. So they don’t lower it.
I wasn’t sure, so I thought I’d make the distinction.
I know, because I work closely with admissions, that we don’t take into account anyone’s financial need when making admissions decisions.
Geg6, I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you for it!
Occidental was on the list for awhile–I was impressed they can take classes at Cal Tech, but that didn’t carry the day. Nice campus!
@geg6: There are only about 100 colleges in the US that don’t look at need as a part of the admissions process, and maybe a quarter of those (obviously quite well-off ones) promise aid packages that don’t include loans.
@trollhattan: Lol I’m unaware. Just chalked it up to usual phone trolling. Though my HomePod did say “uhhuh” when I sneezed the other day.
Because FAFSA collects asset as well as income values I freaked the hell out when, post-Covid lockdown our on-paper net worth plummeted, and began inquiring as to whether we could renegotiate offers on the table using adjusted amounts.
Turned out to be moot for the eventual school selection but the amount of aid offered in several cases would likely have been adjusted upward had we pursued it futher.
My new slogan: If you’re not paranoid, you’re not paying attention. :-0
It is all demographics. The school I taught at in Waco (Midway HS) was the affluent school so lots and lots of kids were children of Baylor professors, local doctors and lawyers, engineers (Space-X and some big aerospace defense contractors were there), and other assorted professionals. There were two big regional hospitals and some big biotech companies in the area as well. So the tone was set by all the kids from affluent families and there would be at least a dozen kids every year bound for Ivies and near Ivies like Vandy, Duke, Emory, Rice, etc. The kids from more modest means and ability would get sucked up into that mentality.
It is the same thing here in Camas were we live now. It is one of the most affluent suburbs in the Portland metro with lots and lots of highly paid professional families and lots of tech engineer types and Asian/Indian families that are super achievement oriented. There was an epic melt-down among mostly high-achieving Asian parents this year because the middle schools changed the math pathways to eliminate the super accelerated 6th and 7th grade math courses and make kids take more diverse math classes with their more ordinary peers. There were way too many parents pushing their kids into top math classes and then hiring private tutors to help them keep up. The district got sick of it. I have next door neighbors who have bent my ear in fury because their 6th grader isn’t going to be able to take Algebra 2 like his older brother did, and they are so furious they are exploring private school options. Yes they are Asian tech engineers.
On staff expansion. One of the reasons for it is former employees with unusual skill sets. You have someone who went to art school before turning corporate. Their newsletter and updates are very cool. They move on. New person can do the regular functions of the job, but now there is an apparent need for a newsletter producer. Same with someone who brings advanced spreadsheet or database knowledge. Going forward there will essentially be two jobs open when they need to be replaced.
Also happens because people build a career based on how many “reports” they have. Worked somewhere once where a whole lot of people got fired so that their asshole supervisor could happily report how many successful onboardings she had done.
This is especially a problem around faculty because they can’t be fired, but can make everyone else’s life completely miserable. So there are more assistants, IT support, and professionalized support staff. Also, STEM grad students now need actual research experience and papers to get good post doc and professorships. Good letters of recommendation earned through conscientious class setups for lab sections aren’t enough anymore.
i think if a 4-year degree is necessary just to get considered for a generic entry-level job like, say, a bank teller or a call center, then yes there should be a free option for that. i don’t agree with that modern-day requirement, and much of it is due to a surfeit of applicants, but it is true that our K-12 system is not necessarily pumping out 18 year olds who know what adulting is supposed to entail. college is not a whole lot better in that regard, but i guess it’s supposed to be something.
From what I am hearing my school also skimps on your area, and registration. I’m talking about the “Student success” area, which seem to exist to ask me to find new things to measure and then ways to measure them. Meanwhile my departmental review that used to be done every four years is done every year and asks us to make valid measurements in student improvement using 2 students as the sample size (seriously).
In the meantime we accept 96% of our applicants and wonder why our freshmen dropout rate is so high.
@RobertB: I went to grad school at Cinti. Up hill both ways is right! One of the old engineering buildings had a newer building attached to it and they attached all the hallways. Built on a hill. So the ground floor on the new building was the 4th floor or something. It took a while to get used to… ;-)
Thanks for all this information. We have 2 Jrs, one out-of-state at a top public university and one in HS about to start thinking of where to go. We were lucky to be able to save a lot for college and not need loans unless grad/medical school comes along.
My oldest made a different choice to help pay for college. He’s in ROTC earned a ROTC scholarship but declined it in favor of simultaneously joining the National Guard. His state gives automatic in-state tuition (~$12k) for Guard members and his “clock” for years of service in the Army began 2 years ago so he’ll be ahead in pay and promotion over most ROTC officer candidates. He earns active duty pay for summer training too.
Just noting that there are many paths to paying for college.
we laid off librarians. (eye roll).
We visited over 10 schools in CA and Occidental was by far the favorite for my daughter. Beautiful campus, but also a very cool eclectic corner of LA with lots of interesting shops and restaurants right next door. By contrast Pomona is in the center of a sprawling suburban wasteland that looks like Plano Texas.
I’m afraid that it isn’t going to be price competitive with her other choices in the Pacific Northwest so unless lightning strikes, it isn’t likely to be her top choice. I’m not going to pay $75k to send her to Occidental just because she liked the campus. And because it was Barak Obama’s alma matter.
there are so many applicants these days that you have to be an amazing overachiever with near perfect grades and test scores to feel like you have a solid shot at many of these schools. or money, lots of money.
@trollhattan: “Sirinet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware on February 25, 2021. In a panic, they try to pull the plug…”
My Dad made sure my 1st job was on a GM Assembly line in Moraine, Ohio. great pay even as an 18-year-old, but damn it was BORING> Good motivator for college. Alas, to my Dad’s dismay it also made me very pro-Union.
@chopper: Important to realize that, like everything else, racism is involved. Companies used to give their own tests to prospective employees. Surprise, surprise, only the white people passed. Once that became illegal, college degrees became the sorting mechanism.* This was a de facto racial barrier, with no degree or lower college grades becoming a legal way to achieve what the openly discriminatory private tests used to do. And now a generation is burdened with life distorting debt on top of it all.
*And now master’s degrees.
@Kent: Yeah, demographics is right. My hometown was, probably still is, small and working-class (parents’ jobs: sheet metal worker and secretary). I didn’t know what an “AP” class was, and my high school certainly didn’t offer them. It was, for the time and place, a pretty decent high school; we had physics, calculus, chemistry, etc. classes, and, while no one would mistake them for AP classes, they did serve as a basic intro for kids heading to college. I still remember those teachers, more than most of the ones I had. And I even had an English teacher who made us diagram sentences (!) and write term papers, on topics of his choosing (in my case: theater of the absurd; in my brother’s case, same teacher: how to build a car from the ground up).
@Almost Retired: Worked for a professor who was on the Academic Performance Committee, who oversaw the students being flunked out. Some of the students were deemed “admissions failures,” meaning that they never should have been accepted into this highly competitive and rigorous program. He began demanding an annual meeting with the Admissions Committee to go over the students who had not successfully completed the program to see how admissions could improve. This was done at the undergrad level as well.
There really does need to be a mechanism for charging at least a portion of loans back to the institution for these sorts of admissions failures. Do out of state students with lower grades and test scores drop out at a higher rate than in state students? There should be a charge back on the school.
Thanks for this post :)
I would assume he is also getting the VA Chapter 1606 benefits. It’s not nearly as generous as the benefits students who receive Chapter 33, 31, 30 or 35 benefits, but it’s several hundred dollars a month for those students. Here in PA, PA Guard members also get a state stipend that is equal to the tuition at one of the state universities, so at my state-related university, that is a significant discount. They also automatically get the full PA State Grant. If he puts in at least 9 months of active duty service (not including training time), he can qualify for Chapter 33 benefits at the 50% level (for 36 months of active duty service you get 100%). That would give him 50% of tuition and fees paid by the VA, a book stipend of $1000 per year and a housing allowance based on his percentage of eligibility and the VA allowance for the region his school is located. Chapter 33 is the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Chapter 31 is Voc-Rehab, Chapter 30 is the Montgomery GI Bill, Chapter 35 is for dependents of veterans who were disabled or deceased in the line of duty and Chapter 1606 is for Reserves and NG.
I don’t have kids and my college days might as well be ancient history in terms of how the funding was structured, so strictly speaking I have no dog in this fight. But I do have an observation.
If so many kids fail in their first year of college, and the reason is so often “they weren’t ready,” why don’t we have a national education policy similar to other countries’ “Gap Year”? When seniors in High School aren’t pressured to make a college decision, but instead have a year in which they can work, or travel, or do public service, or something that is NOT college but is, in fact, in the real world.
I think gap years are terrific, in that they would give young adults a real taste of the real world, a chance to have a better idea of their interests and talents and, ideally, a chance to live independently of their parents and develop an internalized sense of responsibility (regarding finances, chores, scheduling, studying, and so on).
Why not a Gap Year?
@Feathers: Yes, excellent suggestion – and what a great idea with respect to the professor you used to work for.
How are we to know these students will be failures? We can’t measure motivation, grade inflation is a real and pernicious thing. Students and parents do not want the SAT to be a part of the process due to questions about bias and concerns about standardized tests.
And, as someone who handles finances at a university, I can tell you that we eat a lot of unpaid tuition and housing costs for these out-of-state students who flunk out. Once they flunk out, they rarely have any intention of paying what they may owe. Your solution would only increase costs for students who haven’t flunked out.
I am reminded to point out that there is no uniformity in what is going on at various schools, in different states and in peoples life situations not to mention their parents. I think that is the real barrier to college cost reform. So many ideas I have heard proposed and they have no relevance to what is going on in my vicinity. So many things reported by other people aren’t happening here, but are elsewhere. It will be hard to come up with solutions when the causes are many but not universal.
I know lots of students who have taken a gap year. It happens quite regularly. Most of those students go on to do very well.
Absolutely this. It’s a tough nut to crack when there are so many moving parts and, on top of that, a different situation in every community.
One thing not mentioned in the student loan forgiveness talk is that the proposals from Warren and Sanders included a forgiveness of current loans combined with a program to get state universities to a place with a sustainable maximum debt load. This would mean loans would continue, but mostly for private schools and would not have future forgiveness. The other thing that most people didn’t seem to realize that this was all an undergraduate program. Graduate degrees weren’t part of the discussion. The problems are a lot deeper with graduate programs, including PhD programs serving internal needs, with no consideration of the PhD job market.
I think some of Biden’s reluctance to do a blanket loan forgiveness is a realization that the college cost problem needs to be fixed. Loan forgiveness for graduates while continuing to give out unrepayable loans to incoming students really isn’t sustainable.
For profit programs need to be burned to the ground, BTW. Democrats really need to realize that all of these insanely evil moneymaking monster industries, especially those funded by government dollars or enabled through loopholes in existing laws, are what is funding the rise of anti-democracy in this country. They should be killed, buried, the ground salted over. We should rejoice in their lamentations.
@Feathers: Then schools would only take “sure things.” How is that a good result?
@The Moar You Know: I just checked. It’s not just public universities that have seen prices spiral out of control.
I went to Harvard (sic!), graduating in 1980. In that year tuition, fees, room and board hit $8140–or just over $29K in 2021 prices. (As in, less than my son’s current all-in price for a year at U Mass.)
This year, Harvard’s tuition/fees/room and board is right around $70,000, almost 2.5 times more than the inflation adjusted price of forty years ago.
It’s not that simple a story; Harvard is the richest university in the country and offers a huge amount of financial aid much higher up the income scale than most other institutions can. Other rich very-elite universities are similar; the “rack rate” for attendance doesn’t apply across the board.
But there is another issue here: higher ed. is expensive to produce as well as to buy. For lots of reasons, some of them ones I’d consider valid. We need more money in the system (that state support). We also need to look at what we do and how we do it. I have no idea how to do that in a way that isn’t Silicon Valley Tech Bro BS, but I have departmental colleagues who are spending their whole careers trying to figure that out.
Le Comte de Monte Cristo, fka Edmund Dantes
And when each of those VPs are being paid 380K and the hordes of Associate Deans 260K….
@Tom Levenson: Is it even possible to teach an entry level history course with just a lecture and a blackboard anymore?
@geg6: No school wants to admit that they have admission failures, but they do. What I am talking about is looking at the students who drop out and comparing their application information with that of the students who do not drop out. In our program, they started doing an intensive summer program for students who didn’t have a strong math background or scores. The loan chargeback program I’m talking about would be where the dropout rate would be tracked. If there were more dropouts than expected, the school would get asked to do an admissions data report. If the dropouts were substantially below the average of the school, there would be a warning.
SATs are a problem, but not having the SAT as a baseline is an issue as well. I know that where I worked, they talked about raw GRE scores, as in students coming from math backgrounds were expected to have higher math GREs. If you had a liberal arts background, your verbal scores didn’t count as much. How larger schools are supposed to get by without them, I don’t know. Ending local school funding is a large part of the solution, but how we get there, I don’t know.
Le Comte de Monte Cristo, fka Edmund Dantes
I also think about the billionaire vanity projects of building donations and endowed chairs, each of which come at a cost to the institution by way of support staff, office space, ongoing maintenance, etc.
@Omnes Omnibus: no.
but a screen and projector and decent wireless at not at the top of the list of higher ed inflation drivers.
@Omnes Omnibus: The question is are the drop out levels higher than expected? Secondarily, are the students who drop out appreciably different from the students who succeed. Individual schools should be looking at this within their own programs.
The specific situation being discussed was out of state students with lower grades and scores being accepted because they pay higher tuition. They are then dropping out at higher rates because they can’t keep up, and left with high student loan bills and no degree. The people who give out the loans need to figure out if this is an actual problem or just anecdata. If a real problem, something should be done.
My sense is that most schools are good about this. The ones that aren’t should have their asses kicked.
Also acknowledging that some of this seems to be kids and parents rejected by instate flagships choosing a more prestigious out of state public U, because out of state standards are lower. Kid then flunks out and everybody is fucked. Fixing the state funding for public Us should help with this issue.
@Le Comte de Monte Cristo, fka Edmund Dantes: Also, very expensive and fancy alumni service offices. Although that may be what you are talking about. Working in higher ed, these also seem to be an employment program for alums who get laid off. Donate a lot, get hired by the alumni office to get back on your feet. Go back to the private sector and donate more.
Some of the expanding administrative bloat is alums in administration creating new jobs to hire out of work college chums for. Some of the master’s level people doing classroom set up work probably began as work found for people who graduated but couldn’t find work and the program wanted to keep its employment ratios high.
@AxelFoley: I don’t know when this became a blog where people put meaningless nonsense in the first comment, but I am not loving it. This is not about you specifically, but a lot of people have been doing this lately.
If people don’t have a topic about a post, they can choose not to comment.
@Tom Levenson: I realize that, but I was just trying to point out that even an “inexpensive” course may now cost more than it did when many of us were undergrads.
You seem fun.
We make no distinctions in our admissions standards between in-state and out-of-state students. Everyone has to meet the same admissions standards. But I couldn’t agree more that state funding levels MUST increase. It’s ridiculous that we provide millions and millions of dollars in economic benefits to the state and are only funded at 8-12% by the state.
John H. McDonald
@Kent: All halfways-decent American Ph.D. programs in biology give their students a tuition waiver and a stipend in return for a mix of TAing and RAing. I haven’t kept up, but I think a typical stipend at a good university is somewhere around $25,000 to $35,000 per year (so, enough to live on, not enough to jet off to Cancun when it gets cold).
@Starfish: I know. I thought the second comment was for meaningless nonsense!
@Omnes Omnibus: I know you know. I’m just venting.
Steve in the ATL
@The Moar You Know:
Seriously. My manufacturing clients can never hire enough electricians. Neither a plumber nor an electrician will ever be unemployed.
Yes, so not much has really changed. My TA/RA stipend when I was a grad student at UW in the early 1990s was about $900/mo. plus tuition waiver so, without doing the math, that is probably about the same in today’s dollars. Seattle was a MUCH cheaper city in 1991 than it is today.
For a kid who, at this point, thinks she wants to do graduate work in science, the smart move seems to be go in-state for your undergrad, and then go wherever you can for grad school.
Of course whether pursuing a graduate degree in life science is a smart career path is an entirely different question. But I’m not interested in clipping her wings just yet. UW does have BS and MS programs in medical laboratory science which would be good alternate career paths for someone with an interest in molecular biology. That seems to be a field with lots of openings and pretty few programs producing new graduates into the pipeline.
The underlying problem with higher education costs is none of the above.
Baumol’s Cost Diseaseis the rise of salaries in jobs that have experienced no or low increase of labor productivity, in response to rising salaries in other jobs that have experienced higher labor productivity growth.
Just as inflation is this desirable and unavoidable economic element, so is labor productivity increases. Coal miners mine more coal per worker now than 10 years ago, 30 years ago, 100 years ago. This is true in almost every industry – except for education. That’s more tolerable with K-12 due to the mandatory nature of it, and our preference that little kids get a high degree of contact. We like small class sizes for kids.
But we need to ask the question of whether that still makes sense for young adults. I have argued at my organization (with a little success, but not much) that we’ve sort of made the worst of both worlds. We’ve ramped up class sizes effectively eliminating any contact opportunities (rule of thumb, instructors cannot put names to faces above a class size of 75, give or take, and can’t recognize names or faces above 150. We have lots of classes over 150. Asking questions becomes impossible (some questions can be asked but 150 students cannot all ask a question), adapting the course to the puzzled student faces when you’ve lost them becomes difficult.
I have argued to split the curriculum roughly in half. Foundational and low critical thinking courses move to a produced online format. Not what we conventionally do here in the US, but more like what they do at Open University. Courses often look more like what you’d find on Discovery Channel. History course lectures are given at a historical place, with travel budgets and the like. You turn these courses into something you would want to watch. You combine this with continuous formative assessment. You sacrifice some (usually terrible) traditional classroom experience for a process that scales very well. Other benefits are that students aren’t blocked from a degree due to lack of space in these courses, and rather than tying up instructors in multiple otherwise identical course offerings, you can create greater variety in offerings.
The other half is high-contact experiential/critical thinking. These courses loosely tie together the content above, without being overly dependent on it. Instructors freed up from the above process add in a more direct advisory role, monitoring students progress, and all that.
You dramatically change the cost structure of universities. Vastly less capex for generic classrooms. Less administrative overhead for scheduling of courses if half of them are self-paced. You get those productivity gains that help keep it affordable.
Now, institutions like Tom’s don’t need to respond to this. They can stick with their current setup, and there can be these options for students that want the full educational monty. But the part about cost that isn’t widely discussed is access (not affordability – different thing). Because of our inability to scale, we have to turn away qualified students – in the case of my institution roughly 60K per year.
You also have the problem of equity. Universities are usually built in or near urban areas, which is a bit self-fulfilling because any decent university will attract people and business to turn it into a city. My employer was a uni 8 years before the city incorporated, and it’s now a city of 300K. So cost for students from rural areas are significantly higher – they can’t commute, travel costs, plus the need to adapt to urban high costs of living from rural incomes.
I’m a higher-ed pessimist in the sense that it’s become unsustainable for the above reasons, not the reasons people usually complain about. At some point it’s going to break, consumers will look at alternatives, and a new market for higher ed will develop and the traditional institutions will be so unable to adapt that they’ll just shrivel up.
@Kent: Domestic graduate students in science and engineering should never have to pay tuition/housing. There are so many grants that require citizenship, and TAs need to have good english skills, that the foreign students are generally self-supporting, and the domestic students are funded.
So, focus on her undergrad and if she’s got a 3.5 or higher, the grad will take care of itself.
Things are not so rosy for non-STEM grad students.
yeah, a lot of that is societal all right. the only people i can think of who envision their kid growing up to be a plumber are, well, plumbers.
@geg6: thanks for that helpful additional information.
For parents, one key point here is also that cadets in ROTC who are also in the Guard are *not* eligible for deployment with the Guard. They earn these benefits but cannot go on a foreign deployment or other deployment due their ROTC status. Upon graduation, they commission into their service for active duty and their Guard obligations are removed.
Do be careful with Armed Forces recruiters, they are on par with used car salesman working on a quota with no repercussions for ‘mistakenly’ selling you on huge sign-on bonus that wont exist.
By coincidence, the Wall Street Journal put out a very excellent video analysis of the roots of rising college costs. It rang true to my layman’s understanding of the problem. I don’t know if it is paywalled but if you can get through, it is well worth watching. Their bottom line? The increase in college loan programs and other federal student subsidies has fueled the tuition increases in recent years. They also speak highly of Biden’s plans:
@CliosFanBoy: Administrative bloat is definitely an issue — with increased equity comes increased need for student services and resource centers for everything from mental health to academic counseling and tutoring to race/diversity, Title IX compliance, etc. All those things take administrative resources to coordinate and run. Then to raise money for all that, you of course have to expand fundraising operations, so that means more staff in the alumni relations and development office. And so on.
What’s *not* driving up costs over the long term are generally the things everyone tends to blame first: “fancy” dorms, climbing walls and bowling alleys, varsity sports, etc.
@John H. McDonald:
You have to graduate from the upper tier Ivies for that.
@Martin: I always appreciate your input on education, even when I don’t always agree with it. ;-) I’m sure you’ve thought about these issues more than I have, though.
I agree that the current system for funding universities, etc., isn’t sustainable. And there are pathologies built into it (e.g. giant full-freight list prices that foreigners can gladly pay, while domestic students cannot hope to do so, etc., that you’ve outlined before) that damage the country.
But some of us who attend video teleconferences at work, or as a substitute for in-person conferences during the plague, would argue that it’s not a good (or even adequate) substitute for even giant survey courses that are in-person. “Why should I spend $25k a year for video courses when I can watch Khan Academy videos for free??” If in-person instruction, and all of the other in-person interactions, are substantially cut back, then a lot of the value of college is lost. Yes, change is inevitable, and I’m not smart enough to know what it will eventually be, but I don’t think I’ve seen a good example of what a predominantly Video College would look like yet.
I don’t think the MITs and Harvards of the world can resist change for long, either. Ultimately, they have to be responsible to society and the economy as well. If they crack the nut of high-quality remote instruction, or create it themselves, then they’ll certainly adopt it.
What’s the answer? More money. States need to contribute more, as does the federal government, and businesses need to invest in their employees by offering on-site training and sending employees to universities for advance training (MS+). It’s not sustainable to have kids starting out in life pay for this themselves. And work on ways to make education more “efficient/productive” (whatever that means in this context – how “efficient/productive” are lawyers and CEOs and surgeons and investment bankers compared to 40 years ago??).
@Kent: I teach introductory CS at a top ranked CS program. I have seen many students with absolutely no experience in coding go on to major and get FAANG (Facebook Amazon Apple Netflix Google) jobs. So lack of experience is not the issue. In fact some of those “have programmed forever” students actually do worse in college.
But what is true is I have seen older, non traditional students crash and burn hard. They have a much harder time adapting. I have theories but nothing concrete. I made an online extension course for that audience and it has to do a lot more handholding than I do for traditional students.
Thank you for this timely thread, because I will be interviewing NYTimes columnist Ron Lieber about his new book:
on Monday for my little regional public radio station where I have a gig interviewing people about education topics, and I will be combing the thread for good questions to ask him. The show will air on Saturday, March 6, and I should be able to post a link on Monday the 8th to the interview if there is a follow-up thread to this one.
I also teach at a SLAC (small liberal arts college, hence the radio show) and have a son who is a high school junior. My spouse is a staff (another word for underpaid) scientist at the big private Midwestern research university mentioned several times in this thread, and we honestly have no idea where our son will go to college or what he’ll be able to afford. We can just barely make it on our two salaries in our large metro and have no college savings because he can get a tuition deal at my college. Spouse was a National Merit Scholar back in the 80s so graduated with no debt, but has had challenges being fully employed as a scientist until this past decade. I had some undergrad debt and a little bit of living expense debt during grad school, which we finally paid off when I was 46 years old. Now playing catch-up in retirement savings. Big Midwestern Private Research University no longer offers ANY employee discount at all, and though I am an alum from my Ph.D. I sincerely doubt that they’ll have a decent financial aid package for him if he even gets in (they accept about 5% of applicants). Son wants to be a computer engineer/data scientist, so he will probably be able to pay back any modest loans when he’s through, and our flagship state university is looking like a good bet at this point.
Anyway, I will be picking Mr. Lieber’s brain for any great tips and will share the link to the interview!
@geg6: One other piece regarding how loans have changed over the past few decades » while in graduate school in the mid 1980s I took out two $5K loans which didn’t accrue any interest while I was a student plus I had 6 months to pay back the $10K before interest began to accrue. Correct me if I have this wrong, but I think student loans start accruing interest as soon as they’re granted.