Sunday, January 26, 2014

For good students high tuition worth it, but for marginal ones it's a con leading to massive debt

    Ash is starting his second semester as a dual-enrollment student. Last semester he took Greek Mythology at Ole Miss and earned both college and high school credit. He managed to get an "A," which is a good thing.
    This semester he's taking Accounting 201 and Introduction to Homeland Security. I don't know what the Homeland Security class will be like, but I've warned him he'll have to work to earn his "A" in Accounting.
    Now I've got to pay tuition. The tuition for six semester hours is $1,740 after adding in the registration and capital improvement fee. Dual enrollment students receive a 50 percent scholarship, so my out of pocket cost is reduced to $907.50. These credit hours will apply to his eventual undergraduate degree, so in the end it's money well spent. Once he actually attends college the tuition becomes just one of many expenses. Then he will have room, board, Library expenses, fraternity dues, Spring Break vacation costs, and so forth.
    I commented last fall on how much tuition costs had increased. When I mentioned it on Facebook, everyone confirmed that in the mid-1980s tuition was less than $500 for a full load. Today tuition for a full-time Ole Miss student is $3,330.
    And then there are textbooks. Ash's Accounting book had to be purchased new to get some type of software code. The cost was $250 -- for a single textbook. Is there any need for new accounting textbooks? Has accounting even changed since the days of Bob Cratchit?
    Despite the steep rise in tuition and costs, Ole Miss remains a bargain when compared to other schools. Ash is an able student, and I consider money spent on college education and overpriced textbooks well spent, whether at Ole Miss or a more expensive school.
    But for many students college is a terrible deal. Roughly a third of entering college students are so unprepared that they have to take remedial classes. These are essentially high school (or jr. high) classes taught on a college campus. The only difference is that the students have to pay big money for them.
    If a student or his parents have plenty of money, remedial classes are just fine. Likewise, if a student is on some type of athletic or outreach scholarship, great. These people are not mortgaging their futures trying to reach a very elusive goal. But students simply should not be conned into taking on debt to take remedial classes at the university level.
    Why? Because five out of six students who enroll in a remedial reading class will not earn a degree. Three out of four students who start out in remedial math won't make it. All these students will earn is a mountain of debt that can't be discharged in bankruptcy, and absolutely nothing to show for it. Colleges should not be allowed to encourage kids and their parents to take on massive debt in pursuit of a slight chance of earning a college degree.
    In the past 15 years or so we have adopted a national mantra that everyone should go to college. It's not true. Everyone who can do the work should consider college.
    People need to be reminded that they are spending real money on their education. The loans which are so freely given to both students and parents have to be paid back. They can never be discharged. Many students today are graduating with a large home mortgage hanging over their head; except they have no home to go with it. Many won't even have a degree, just debt.
    This mountain of educational debt almost certainly endangers the long-term outlook of the American economy. We need to do away with $250 textbooks and start using $50 ones instead. And our state colleges need to cut back on efforts to create a luxurious learning environment and work harder at keeping tuition costs down.

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