Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What Every College-Bound Student & Parent Must Know...And Probably Don't

This animated discussion between a parent and college counselor reveals what parents of college-bound students must know and probably don't. An enhanced transcript appears below the video.

by Marty Nemko

B: My son will be applying to college soon. I'm scared.

M: Scared?

B: First, I'm scared about the cost. It was really hard even to find the sticker price on the colleges' websites and when I did, I nearly had a heart attack.

M: I don't mean to scare you more, but the amount most colleges post omits thousands of dollars that the average student ends up spending each year?

B: The college's admission counselor...

M: You mean salesperson.

B: Don't be cynical.

M: Many college admissions people, including the campus tour guides receive sales training. They are salespeople. For example, how often will they suggest that your child attend some other college?

B: Anyway, the admissions counselor told me not to worry, that most people don't pay the sticker price.

M: Sounds like a rug dealer.

B: He said there's financial aid.

M: Did you ask him for an estimate of what the college would cost you, given your income and assets and your child's academic record?

B: That's a good idea. I will.

M: Be sure to ask for an estimate for the total cost for at least four years.

B: Why?

M: Because some colleges use the drug dealer scam: They give you a big discount in Year One to get you hooked and then jack up the price each year after.

B: That's disgusting. I'm also scared because I read an op-ed on called "College is a Waste of Time."

M: That's just the tip of the iceberg. This year alone, there were similar articles in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The Atlantic. And prestigious book publishers like Knopf have published books with titles like Crisis on Campus, The Five Year Party, No Sucker Left Behind: Avoiding the great college rip-off, University Inc: the corporate corruption of higher education, Academically Adrift: limited learning on college campuses, and Higher Education? How colleges are wasting our money and failing our kids.

B. And I keep hearing how even if you graduate...

M. And nationwide, more than half don't, even if they take six years!

B. You're kidding?

M. I wish I were. Dept. of Education statistics. The Education Dept. also reports that if your child graduated in the bottom 40% of his high school class, his chances of graduating from a so-called four-year college is only 1 in 4 even if he takes 8 1/2 years!

B: All that tuition. All that time.

M: All that assault to their self-esteem.

B: But even if they drop out, they will have learned a lot, right?

M: Wrong. According to the aforementioned book Academically Adrift, published by University of Chicago Press, which summarizes extensive nationwide research, of those who defy the odds and graduate, 36% grow insignificantly in reading, writing, critical thinking!

B: No! But even if you don't learn a lot in college, these days, with this terrible job market, you need the degree, the piece of paper.

M: Awfully expensive piece of paper. Sticker price for even just four years at a brand-name private college, even if you don't count all expenses, is over $200,000 per child! And that doesn't count if it takes the student five or six years.

B: But the colleges are always saying that college graduates, over their lifetime, earn a million dollars more.

M: You've heard the expression, you can lie with statistics. Well universities are pros at it.

B: What do you mean?

M: The lifetime that colleges report is in the past. Today, we have an oversupply of college graduates at the same time as employers are hiring fewer college graduates: they're offshoring and automating as much as possible. And when they hire, they use temps and part-timers as much as possible.

B: But college grads still get better jobs. Right?

M: On average yes, but according to the U.S. Department of Labor, of college graduates under 25, 44% are working at jobs that don't require a college degree or aren't working at all. Also, remember that the pool of college graduates are brighter, more motivated, and have better family connections than the pool of those who didn't attend college. You could have locked them in a closet for four years and they'd have earned lots more money than the pool of students who didn't go to college, which today is just a small percentage, the bottom of the academic barrel. And those college-caliber students wouldn't be locked in a closet: because they are brighter, more motivated, and have better family connections, they'd get launchpad jobs where they could learn on the job and get paid for it rather than pay all that tuition and be taught all the irrelevancies they teach in college: stochastic processes, the causes of the Peloponnesian Wars, the intricacies of Shakespeare.

B: Yeah, I remember Father Guido Sarducci saying he's thinking of starting a college where a degree would only cost $100 and would take only one hour: He'd only teach what students still remembered after they finished college.

M: Good comedy indeed contains grains of truth.

B: Are you telling me my kid shouldn't go to college?

M: I'm saying you should not assume college is the right choice. For many people, an apprenticeship, the military, a short-term career-preparation program at a community college, or on the-job training, for example, at the elbow of an ethical and successful entrepreneur, can be a wiser choice.

B: But my kid has good grades and test scores, he loves learning, and is eager to go to college.

M: Then he probably should go, but please pick wisely.

B: How do you do that?

M: First pick say ten colleges that enroll many students with grades and test scores similar to your child's and that are well-located.

B: Then what?

M: This is critical. Please do it. To narrow your list, ask each college these things: Given my family's income and assets and my son's high school record, what am I likely to pay in cash and take on in loan over the four years my child is there? What would I pay in year 5 and beyond?

B: What if they don't tell you?

M: That's a sign the college is more expensive than you think or that the college doesn't care enough about students to provide even that basic information: the true cost of attendance.

B: I guess that makes sense.

M: Here's the next thing to ask: What's the average amount of growth that your college's graduates with a high school record similar to my son's make in reading, critical thinking, etc?

B: Do they have that information?

M: Many colleges do, and if they don't care enough to monitor student growth, that's another sign you don't want your child there.

B: What else should I ask?

M: For students with high school records like my son's, what's the 4- and 5-year graduation rate? Also, ask for the results of a student satisfaction survey, the summary of the accreditation visiting team report, and the percent of graduates in your son's intended major who are professionally employed within a year of graduation.

B: That information would seem so helpful to prospective students. I wish all colleges would post it on their website.

M: They don't want to because, per all those articles and books I cited, the results would embarrass them. That's why I'm trying to get Congress to pass a law that would require it.

B: That would sure put pressure on colleges to improve. That would not only provide better education, it would help America remain competitive in a global economy in which India and China are taking so many of our jobs.

M: That's why I'd love it if more parents would demand answers to those questions: Tell or I won't apply!

B: That's a great idea! I'll tell each college: Tell or I won't apply! Hey, if I want a written copy of those questions...

M: I call it the College Report Card.

B: If I want a copy of the College Report Card, where can I find it?

M: The College Report Card is free on my blog, which can be reached from my site:

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