About Prudent $cholar

The Prudent Scholar explores the topic of money and higher education. We look at at big picture and small: both the latest news and the nitty-gritty details of college life that might help you save money and get more value from your educational experience.

November 21, 2011

Out-of-State tuition and student debt

The front page of a recent Chronicle of Higher Education held two headlines: 

These two stories, one of student loan debt and one of student migration are very much related.  According to the College Board, the average public four-year college charge  this year  (after deducting financial aid packages) was $8,244 in tuition and fees for in-state students. Out-of-state students paid $12,526. 

This is just for illustrative purposes, because financial aid can vary so much, but that's a difference of $17,128 over four years. Add in the increase in travel costs (air travel at Christmas, for example) and you might round up to $20,000.

Public universities recruit from out-of-state for a variety of reasons. A larger pool of applicants helps a university attract diverse and high-quality students, which changes the academic climate and helps with rankings and reputation.

Out-of-state students also pay the bills. In some cases, they pay as much as private school students. In general, they help states meet the university's financial needs as state governments slash funding.

Is it worth it? Maybe.  It's a question of priorities and goals.   Does the school a few states away have something you can't get at home?  Do you dream of being a marine biologist but live in land-locked Idaho?  Does the company you dream of only hire engineers from Purdue University? In other words, does a certain program increase your chance of success?

 If the answer is "I want to be an English major" or "I think I want to be a social worker" then check out what the nearest state school has to offer and save yourself $20,000.

November 8, 2011

The tougher the instructor, the better the value

There are different ways to get a good education no matter what kind of school you choose (or that chooses you).  One is to seek out the best professors, the ones who will help you become a better thinker and doer. 
Last week, I read about Steven Maranville's suit against Utah Valley University.   A newspaper article never presents all the facts (and neither does a lawsuit), but Maranville's lawyers are describing a dedicated and talented professor booted for challenging his students.  He required teamwork and used the dreaded Socratic method of teaching. 

Maranville's best reviews on Rate My Professor talk of how his class was hard, but prepared the students for the business world. Most jobs require quick thinking. You'll answer questions and work with a team, just like in Maranville's class.

The worst reviews barely make their case. Many are poorly worded and riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. Some of them, granted, are using textspeak, but some reviews read as if a monkey got  stole an IPhone to text his anger to the world.

The Maranville case points, then, to another issue: The importance of the quality of your peers. You can get a good undergraduate education at a school with open admissions. I did. And, some of my peers were inspiring, especially the non-traditional students, who worked long hours at day jobs, but by and large came to class enthused. Others wanted to coast and some of the classes allowed that. Avoid the classes that let you coast. They are a waste of money.

What's the culture of a school? The University of Houston ratings for this one professor are much higher than his rankings at Utah Valley University; this is even considering that some of the UVA students posted poor ratings on his Houston page, which would bring down his average score there.

Don't just get a degree. Get a good education. If you're paying just for a credential, you are not a scholar. You're a customer. Beware of institutions that want to give the people what they want. You deserve better.

November 1, 2011

Summer classes: A good deal for you?

Light summer reading.  Photo courtesy of Nina Hale, though a creative commons license.

Indiana University announced an interesting plan last week to reduce education costs (and more effectively utilize its academic buildings year-round).  IU is now offering a 25% reduction in tuition for summer classes. This is a great deal for some students. Is a summer class -- discounted or not -- a great deal for you?  Ask yourself a few questions before signing up for summer.

Will the course(s) help you graduate on time? Will it help you graduate early?
Talk to your academic advisor about this one.  Behind in credits? Summer classes are a great way to catch up so that you can graduate on time. Ahead on credits? A well-chosen summer class or four might even mean you can graduate a semester early. 
Will summer coursework help you with a goal?
Maybe summer coursework doesn't bring graduation closer, but helps you gain a valuable or valued minor or certificate that you don't have time for otherwise. You might be an art major who seeks a business minor or vice versa thanks to summer study.  
Will you be paying the rent anyway?
If you have a 12-month lease, you are paying for a large part of your educational expense whether present at school or not. 
If you normally live on campus with a 8- or 9-month lease, sub-leasing an apartment can be a cost-effective option for summer study.  In college towns such as IU's Bloomington, IN, students leave an abundance of empty houses and apartments behind in the summer. It's a sub-leaser's market.  You might also check with your residence hall to see if they are looking for summer help in return for a place to stay.
How will you pay for the class?
Are you at Big State, but paying out-of-state tuition? Even with a special discount, the price tag can be high.  Are you at the small private and paying tuition to match?  Add up the costs and compare to the alternatives. It might make more sense to go home for the summer and take a class at the local community college. Talk with your academic advisor about transfer policies and procedures.
What are you giving up?

The summers of college are not likely to be replicated in your later adult life. It's a chance to recharge, to gain important experiences or to work ahead in non-academic ways. A prestigious internship might mean more to your future than graduating early; summer jobs can take the edge off of academic-year costs. Think about the opportunity costs of taking summer classes.
Will taking summer classes affect you financially in the future? 
 Ask yourself if it affects your financial aid (loan or scholarship) and talk with your financial aid counselor or scholarship coordinator if you don't know the answer. Some scholarships are finite and taking a summer class now means there is less funding for a future semester. In the long run, this might be fine, but all the more reason to make sure the summer classes count.

But, what about the fun of learning, you say? Perhaps you want to take a class for the fun of it this summer? By all means, but know the opportunity costs.  Prudent scholars don't take summer classes without weighing their options.

April 18, 2011

Don't Spend Your Inheritance

"We're spending our children's inheritance."
~ bumper sticker
Your parents might joke that they are spending your inheritance. They might very well be spending it -- on you.  According to Sallie Mae, 24% of college savers use retirement accounts as college savings vehicles. 

Parents shouldn't tap their retirement savings to put you through school.  Why?  Because your parents will need that money to live on and they are going to need a lot of it. They could live a long, long time. Every dollar they take out for your college education is a dollar they don't have accruing interest to cushion their old age -- and your middle age as a caregiver.

Retirement savings is built on the miracle of compound interest. Compound interest needs time to work, and tapping savings mucks it all up. It reduces interest, which reduces interest, which reduces interest. See the Motley Fool's explanation and illustrations of compound interest.

Prudent scholars don't drain their parents' retirement accounts. 

Further Reading:
"Don't raid an IRA to pay for college" at Investment News
"An Introduction to 529 plans" by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

April 14, 2011

The Anti-dowry: Student Loan Debt

Are student loans bad debt?   Photo: Tom Peck
The New York Times reports this week about rising student loan debt and the ramifications. In 2010, the average debt of college students graduating with loans was $24,000.  The gist of the article is that student debt is becoming more of a factor in American life. More college graduates have it and more of them have a lot of it. 

It's sometimes called the anti-dowry because unlike a dowry, which in some cultures helps a young couple get set up in life, a student loan debt can delay marriage, family, and home ownership.

Let's look at some salient findings and facts from the article.

The bad
- Student loans cannot be discharged by bankruptsy.
- Students who borrow from for-profit colleges especially likely to default.

The good
- College graduates earn more over their lifetime.
- College graduates are less likely to be unemployed.

The interesting
- President and Mrs. Obama finished their educations with a combined $120,000 of debt.
The Times reports that some economists are concerned that the scary stories of college debt will discourage people from attending college. But, college debt is seen by other experts as "good debt."

The Take-away: 
If you need to take on a loan to take on college, do it. Do it with careful deliberation and don't be part of the lost generation of young people who either forsake an education or spend too much on one. How do you know what's too much?  We'll explore in future posts.

March 30, 2011

Out in 4 years: Budgeting Credit Hours

Simple calculations lead to a credit-hour budget.              Photo by Judi Cox

An extra semester or year of college is an expensive proposition. One of the biggest reasons students fail to graduate in four years is that they take too few credit hours each semester.

What is a credit hour?
In a semester system, a credit hour is usually a measure of time is spent in class each week. A three-credit hour class indicates approximately three hours of class time per week during the course of a semester. Most classes are three-credit hours.

What is an appropriate semester load?
A full-time load for a semester is 12-18 credit hours, which usually translates to four to six classes. Eighteen credit hours are too much for most students. Twelve hours are usually too few. The sweet spot is 15.

Twelve credit hours (again, usually four classes) might be considered full-time and it might leave time for work and extra-curricular activities, but it won't get you to graduation in four years.   

How do I graduate on time?
Complete your credit hours and the course requirements of your program. Use your campus resources to find out what these are.

The math to figure a credit-hour budget is simple. If your program requires 122 credit hours and you take 12 credit hours each of eight semesters, you have only 96 at the end of four years.    

In reality, a 122-credit program requires you to take an average of 15.25 credits each semester (think 15 sometimes, 16 sometimes) to graduate on time with no summer work.


Prudent Scholar Joan
High school senior Joan reads her college bulletin and talks to her college advisor during orientation. She  needs 124 credits to graduate in her program in 4 years (8 semesters).
124  divided by 8 semesters =  15.5 a semester

Joan's plan: Take 15 hours half the time, 16 hours the other half to reach 124. Talk with your advisor about how best to do this.

Late Start Sally
Sally took light loads her first two years in school so that she could take on more work hours.  She, too wants to graduate in four years (8 semesters). She has four semesters to go and needs 74 more credits.
74 divided by 4 semesters = 18.5 credits a semester
Sally's plan:  18 or 19 hours is a jump, but possible. Sally can't afford to cut her work hours and decides to take summer courses.
Summer courses can be a good way to catch up, but might be a financial trap for students who don't need the extra classes. We'll discuss summer courses (pros/cons, questions to ask yourself) in another blog post.

A Thief Stole My Homework

Beware the break-in.  Photo by Tim Samoff
One of the most valuable things a student can own is a laptop. But, even more valuable to you and your future is what's inside. You can insure a laptop, but can money replace the information that lies within?

When I was an undergraduate, data was fragile.  We used floppy disks. They weren't floppy; they weren't disk-shaped. What they were was unreliable. We'd keep backups of our backups.

Data is less fragile now, but it is vulnerable.  Laptops are still breakable and their best quality, their portability, makes them an easy target for theft.   If that's where you keep your papers, your thesis, your photos, your life, think about how to safeguard it so that if your laptop's lost to theft or natural disaster, at least you still have the data.  Think about the worse case scenario and think beyond that.

Jessica Osuna, a doctoral student lost six years of work when someone smashed in the door of her home to steal her laptop.  The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:
"Ms. Osuna was not naive about safeguarding her work. She ran automatic backups of her 15-inch MacBook Pro onto a small external drive. Then every other day or so, she copied her work onto a one-terabyte hard drive that she kept locked in a safe, in case of fire. But whoever burglarized her home busted open the safe and took that drive, too."
A very solid back-up plan might include an external drive, but Ms. Osuna's situation points to the need for an off-site backup plan.

A low-cost option is to post regular copies to CD or USB drive that live off premises. If you're a grad student with an office and multi-year dissertation, you might do that, but for most students, that degree of care is just not practical. It's time to look at other options.

Off-site back up options:

1. Email.  The simplest and cheapest backup is to use email. Every time you complete a draft of an important document email a copy to yourself.
  • Pro:  It's available everywhere email is.
  • Con: Files can get lost in mountains of email. The longer time has passed, the less easy it is to access your information. 
Takeaway: This is a good method for backing up valuable current projects, but it might not be a long-term storage solution.

2. Campus vaults. Many universities make data storage available to students. This is the best option if you can get it.
  • Pros: Convenient for on-campus computing, your campus data storage is probably included in the cost of your tuition and technology fees.
  • Cons: May or may not be easily accessible off campus. Beware of upgrades and make sure you copy the goods before you move on. My grad school papers were stored in a vault that was phased out.  Data never really dies, but resurrection can be a major hassle.
Takeaway: Find out what your campus offers and use it to its full potential. Just make sure to take your data with you when you leave.

3. Clouds.
  • Pros: Available anywhere you can access to an internet connection. Large amounts of space available. Easy to organize and access.
  • Cons: You're looking at $50-$150 a year in fees.
Takeaway:   Costly, but worth it for extremely valuable data years in the making. Probably not necessary for budget-conscious undergraduates who are careful to use other back-up options regularly.

March 21, 2011

7 Ways to Find Free Food on Campus

Pizza: A commonly free food on campus. Photo: MMChicago.
If you live on a big campus, somewhere there is an learning opportunity accompanied by free food. Katherine, a student I knew a few years ago, never missed an opportunity to learn something new -- and eat something free in the process.  The two go hand-in-hand on a college campus.
Many groups provide free food as either an extra enticement for attendance or to add a social dimension to an academic event.  Some organizations make the food THE event. Check out international organizations, which use food to teach about other cultures.  

How do you find out about these events?  

7.  Read your campus newspaper or arts magazine. Many of these will feature upcoming events.

6.  Try Free Food on Campus.  This website seems to be just getting off the ground. Join and you can help spread the word about events.

5.  Seek a local group of grazers. Some college's have local Facebook groups for students looking for a free lunch.

4.  Like art?  Go to art exhibition openings. These are almost always accompanied by snacks. See if your town has a regulary "Gallery Walk." Think pub crawl, but with cheese cubes and art.

3.  Join the listservs of departments or organizations that interest you and ask to be put on their mailing list or listserv or look for their page on Facebook.

2.  Keep tabs on online campus and community calendars.

1.   Read notices and posters. Old-fashioned paper flyers posted around campus are still a good way to find out about events and receptions.

March 17, 2011

Tax Credit for Textbooks

Photo by wohnai
  According to the National Association of College Stores, the American Opportunity Tac Credit there's a short-term tax credit for text books and other educational materials.  Thank the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, etc, the tax credit of up to $2,500 a year covers course materials, tuition and fees for 2009-2012.

See the FAQs and talk to your accountant.

Heart set on a private?

Ellsworth Community College, Iowa Falls Iowa. Photo by Artin Gal

If you have your heart set on a private school, one way to save money is to compromise. Go to a public the first year and then transfer basic classes such as math, composition, pysch 101 to your private. It's not a perfect solution, but it can save you money.

Find out more about how others have done it at CNN Money.com.

An Ivy League Degree: A Poor Investment

Harvard University. Photo: David Paul Ohmer

William D. Cohan blogs for the New York Times this week about the high cost of an Ivy League degree and if, from a strictly monetory perspective, it's worth it.
"Generally speaking, in order to pay just Harvard’s tuition, someone would have to earn more than $100,000 in annual pre-tax compensation. Then there are all the other family expenses — among them, gasoline, the mortgage, food and medical expenses. Multiply all that by four, and then by other children, and very quickly the numbers get astronomical."
Read the whole post.

March 10, 2011

Mark Twain Would Take Statistics

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics," Mark Twain said.  If you have any hope of being a prudent scholar of life, you'll want to get a handle on the last. 
Some majors -- business, sociology, psychology -- will probably require a course in statistics.  But, if you aren't forced by your program, I recommend forcing yourself and taking a junior-level class, or at the very least a freshman-level class introducing statistical literacy.  Check with your advisor as this might fulfill one of your science and math requirements.

Why do I recommend it?  Like a class in personal finance, this kind of course offers life skills. Open almost any newspaper and you'll see an article that uses statistics in some way. Are they using them correctly?  Maybe. Quite often not. Hence, Mr. Twain's colorful opinion on the matter.

The best website I've found all week is STATS.  Run by statisticians advocating for a more informed use of statistics, STATS looks at the current issues from a quantitative perspective. As an extra public service, STATS examines specific news articles and explains how statistics are being used and misused.

Would Mark Twain have taken Statistics?  What's a better way to understand the rascals who use statistics than to study it in depth?

College vs. Gold

   Think college costs have skyrocketed in the last thirty years? Buttonwood's Notebook at the The Economist compares the price of gold with the price of education.

The blog post is a good illustration of how statistics can be used in different ways. But, looking at the two commodities in several different ways, Buttonwood finds that gold has outpaced higher education by leaps and bounds.
"The two figures were roughly similar in 1971 when the US went off the gold standard; the higher education index was at 42.1 while gold was $40.62 an ounce. Since then, the higher education index has risen sevenfold while gold has risen almost 36-fold."
Buttonwood's assessment is that gold is incredibly overvalued.  Is higher education?

March 8, 2011

Retaking the SAT: Should you?

When I took the GRE a dozen or so years ago, I freaked out – for lack of a better term – during the last test, which happened to be the now-defunct multiple-choice logic section. I suspect low-blood sugar spiked my anxiety during the last leg of the four-hour test and deep-sixed my efforts. My scores were strangely lopsided.  There seemed little choice but to retake the expensive test.

I did. This time I was prepared. I don't mean I studied more. I mean that I had a healthy, balanced lunch and took an extra sweater for the uncomfortably cold room waiting for me. All of my scores improved slightly, but the results of the second logic test jumped by several hundred points. Yes, I really do mean that I freaked out.

If you are ill during the test or having a bad day and think you can raise your score significantly, then take the test again. But, most people aren't improving that much.

According to the College Board, a little over half of junior test-takes improve during a retake their senior year, 35% of test-takers go down and 10% had no change. That's just a little better than 50/50 odds.

The blog Education Research Report tells us about a study in the journal Psychological Science that  finds students are more likely to retake the SAT if their scores end in 90 (say 1290 instead of 1300, 1390 instead of 1400). The difference is miminal, but it feels significant. This must be the same psychology behind 99-cent pricing. The price $13.99 feels much cheaper than $14.  It's isn't.  The researchers found that students who scored 1390 were just as likely to be accepted as those who scored 1400.

“The SAT doesn’t matter nearly as much for admission as people think, so 10 points probably don’t make a difference,” the author of the study said. 

That's a relief because there is lots of debate about just how good a test the SAT is. In 2008 a commission he National Association for College Admission Counseling suggested that colleges and universities move away from relying on standardized tests for admissions.  In 2009, two professors took the test for the Chronicle of Higher Education.  One was happy with what he found. The other was not impressed. So, if you take the SAT and find some of the questions convoluted or banal, know that at least one journalism professor agrees with you.

A New York Times blog, The Choice, taps also offers some arguments against retaking the SAT or taking both ACT and SAT. Should you take both tests?  Some students, the guest blogger notes, do better at one test than the other and vice versa, but colleges who accept both don't prefer one over the other (if you doubt this advice, you can always ask your particular school). If you take one and do as well as you expected (in line with your practice tests), you might think about the time and money that could be saved if you don't take the other.

Trade-offs: Oxford vs. the Local Regional

Oxford University. Photo by Tejvan Pettinger
My counterpart at the blog Frugal Scholar, a university professor who practices frugality, has an interesting thread looking at one young woman's very difficult decision: Go to Oxford and pursue what she loves (at Oxford!) or go the more local, more affordable route, as her parents would like, and graduate debt-free.  And is there an in-between option?

Lots of people have weighed in and it points to the various opinions and tactics -- even among the frugal. Look, learn or even join the discussion at http://frugalscholar.blogspot.com/2011/03/college-debt-once-more-worth-it.html.

March 7, 2011

Personal Finance: A Rewarding Elective

No matter your major in college, prudent scholars, I recommend one class more than any other: Personal Finance.  Your high school might have required a similar class, but investigate your college's version. It might cover more or give you an important review.  I took the version at Indiana University-Bloomington as an adult with years of financial decisions behind me, but still found the class rewarding.

Most Personal Finance courses will look at the following:
  • budgeting
  • figuring net worth
  • understanding interest rates
  • comparing mortgages and car loans
  • choosing insurance
  • investing for retirement
It's never too early to learn budgeting skills, but some of the other topics might seem abstract your first year or two in college. Don't worry if you have to put it off until your last year of college when the "real world" beckons. This not-too-difficult life skills class is perfect counterpoint to some of the more mentally challenging classes you'll take at that time.

You can usually find Personal Finance in the business course listings, but if you can't, ask your academic advisor or do a search of your university's website.

Low Cost Spring-break Alternative

With a new spin on the "staycation," University of Vermont anthropologist Robert Gordon offers the advice to intrepid students who want to volunteer abroad during spring break.

Stay home.

Gordon, author of Going Abroad: Traveling Like an Anthropologist (also available at half.com), tells The Chronicle of Higher Education, that "you can 'go abroad' in your hometown by just walking around and engaging local people and by having a sense of enchantment."

March 3, 2011

DePaul Drops SAT requirement

DePaul University.  Photo: Richie Diesterheft
 College costs start as early as your sophomore year of high school if you take the PSAT and your high school doesn't pick up the tab.  SAT and ACT testing fees can add up to hundreds of dollars very quickly.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports this week that DePaul University will drop standardized tests as a requirement in a new "student-centered strategy."  It is now the largest private college to go test optional. Students who choose not to send scores will submit answers to essay questions instead.

"DePaul's announcement is a reminder that the test-optional label now applies to a diverse mix of colleges," writes Chronicle reporter Eric Hoover.  Test-optional policies are "not only for nonselective institutions or small liberal-arts colleges."

The SAT costs $47 this year, with extra for subject-area tests and special services. The lower-priced ACT costs start at $33. If you need the ACT Plus Writing the cost is $48.00. Each has a  menu of costs depending on if you want your scores sent to more than four schools, if you need to change your test date or center, etc.

It's common for students to retake the SAT or ACT, or to take them both. You could save an easy hundred if more schools drop the requirement. We'll explore the reasons -- good and bad -- for retaking in an upcoming post. 

In the meantime, I leave you with the words of Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management at DePaul. "Test scores are valuable for some things," he says, "but the focus and obsession we have about them as a country is a little bit misplaced, if not a lot misplaced."

March 1, 2011

"Best" Colleges - What do rankings measure?

We Americans do love to rank things. But, as prudent scholars, it's important to know what criteria go into the rankings that guide our lives.

Sometimes you put your faith in the source, right?   If Roger Ebert sends out a list of Best Movies Ever, you might take notice --- if you tend to agree with Roger Ebert.   He's an expert on movies, but he's not objective. He's giving an opinion. And, you know, because you've been to Rotten Tomatoes, that experts disagree. Just like you, they have different likes and dislikes and this comes through in their reviews.

College rankings are very much like a movie review. Except that you haven't had years to figure out if you like the reviewer. You take it on faith without establishing a history. Fortunately, they publish their criteria. You just have to pay attention.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink and the Tipping Point takes a look at The Order of Things in a The New Yorker critique of the U.S. News and World Report ranking. This ranking, Gladwell says, compares apples to oranges to bananas to grapes.

The rankings currently rely on seven weighted variables:
1. Undergraduate academic reputation  (22.5 percent)
2. Graduation and freshman retention (20 percent)
3. Faculty resources (20 percent)
4. Student selectivity (15 percent)
5. Financial resources (10 percent)
6. Graduation rate performance (7.5 percent)
7. Alumni giving (5 percent)

U.S. News uses these variables to compare every college in the country -- never mind that some colleges do a better job of, say, I don't know, maybe teaching. You can't tell that by this list.

Gladwell tells us:
"There's no direct way to measure the quality of an institution -- how well a college manages to inform, inspire, and challenge its students. So the U.S. News algorithm relies instead on proxies for quality -- and the proxies for educational quality turn out to be flimsy at best."

You might notice that the list doesn't include price.  The rankings don't give points for being affordable. Why?  The man in charge of the rankings, Robert Morse, "admitted that there was no formal reason." 

Morse explains the rankings:
"We're not saying that we're measuring educational outcomes. We're not saying we're social scientists, or we're subjecting our rankings to some peer-review process. We're just saying we've made this judgment. We're saying we've interviewed a lot of experts, we've developed these academic indicators, and we think these measures measure quality schools."
That, prudent scholars, is called subjectivity.  While value  never went into the equation, someone decided that, for example, selectivity was more important than efficacy.  Penn State, a well-regarded school with a mission of serving a wide range of students and doing it well at a relatively affordable price, will never outperform Yale on the U.S. News rankings. Why? Because U.S. News weighs selectivity higher than graduation rate performance.   The system is actually gamed against value.

Graham Spanier, the president of Penn State, notes that the top twenty schools on the list will always be the wealthy private universities.

"It doesn't really make sense, until you drill down into the rankings, and what do you find? What I find more than anything else is a measure of wealth: institutional wealth, how big is your endowment, what percentage of alumni are donating each year, what are your faculty salaries, how much are you spending per student."
Penn State's students aren't rich.  "There is no possibility that we could do anything here at this university to get ourselves into the top ten or twenty or thirty-- except if some donor gave us billions of dollars," Spanier said.

Different movie reviewers are looking for different things. One likes snappy dialogue. One wants realistic action sequences.  Do the college rankings measure what you care about?

It depends. What’s your criteria for college?  Is it in the list or are you more concerned about an urban experience? A small student-to-faculty ratio?  In-state tuition? As much prestige as you can get for the money?  Question the value of the rankings to you before you make decisions based on somebody's opinion.

February 28, 2011

College application frenzy: One Dad Says Stop Stressing

Public Radio's Marketplace intereviewed the author of Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid into College. The takeaway:  Relax.

In the interview with Marketplace's Tess Vigeland, the author Andrew Fergusen describes the pressure and frenzy surrounding the process of getting into college, then reflects:
 "Of course, this is the big myth about college admissions now, which is somehow the exact school you want to go to is going to determine your future and your future happiness, when it's actually quite clear in their studies about this, that where you went to college doesn't have any influence on your happiness or even your job earnings for that matter."

Welcome, Prudent Scholars

 Last week I shared a ride with a charming graduate student who during our chat told me matter-of-factly of his $70,000  professional-school debt.  That's on top of his undergraduate debt-load from a well-regarded private university.  To work in the field he loves -- the one for which is training -- he is resigned to a life of near-poverty. "I know I'll never own a house," he said.

Crushing debt and limited means to repay it can mean more than a life of renting. Crushing debt crushes choices and opportunities. Last fall The New York Times reported how debt thwarted young love or at least could make it more complicated.

As a higher education professional, the owner of a couple of paid-off degrees and the co-steward of my husband's relatively modest student debt, I am all too aware of the costs of education. Lately, I have felt inundated with discussions -- in the media and face-to-face -- around the topic.

I'm a true believer in higher education. The college experience can be mind-expanding and add value to a life unrelated to issues of lifetimes earnings.  I'm a true believer, but I'm not here to proselytize.  This blog assumes you want an education of some sort beyond high school.  This blog assumes you haven't thought too much about finances before, but are ready to start. 

Because I make a true believer's salary, I get to practice one of my other great interests: frugality.  Like many other blogs on saving money, this space is for a discussion on cutting costs, sometimes substantially -- sometimes by just a little -- and getting value for money and time spent.

This blog is not called the "cheap scholar" or the "cheapskate scholar" - for a reason.  Sometimes bargain basement prices do not lead to bargains. Sometimes they do.  This blog will share cost-saving tips, yes, but it will also be about priorities and values. We will discuss how you, my prudent scholar, can make choices that you can live with and, hopefully, live with comfortably and happily.  It is meant to help you own your choices rather than be swept along by expectations, assumptions and misunderstandings. 

I'm not really the prudent scholar of the title. You are. This blog is for all who are looking at the choices -- the tiny and the not-so-tiny that add up to the college experience.  I write to all the prudent scholars out there, who want to learn great things, but not at the cost of their future.