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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sixty Thousand in Debt and No Job!

I imagine none of us would like to be in such a position. But if you have a youngster or three or four in college, you’d best be aware of just how expensive it has become. An English major, speech and science minor, I always believed a college education was essential to a satisfying life. After ten years in the English classroom, with a three-year break in the business world, I came to realize that college was important only to a select group. Now by select, I don’t mean elite or rich or popular, but those interested in occupations in demand in today’s ever changing world of business. The definitive phrase in the last sentence of the previous paragraph is ‘in demand.’ What might be ‘in demand’ in one part of the country might be ‘no demand’ in another. That’s why I spent my last thirty-one years in Career and Technology Education, once called Vocational Education. A college education doesn’t mean a four-year baccalaureate. A college degree can be a one-year certificate, a two-year associate, or even a trade school certification. The point is, after high school, young folks must have additional education if they wish to earn salaries beyond entry-level wages. Now, entry-level wages are from work as honorable, as honest, as respectable as a doctor’s job. Trouble is, the doctor makes a heck of a lot more money. Of course, he’s spent a heck of a lot more time and effort gaining the additional education. There are degrees that are worthless although at the end, they cost the same as a practical one. What’s happened is that the public has been sold a bill of goods about college. Go to college-get rich! That’s the mantra flying like a banner from the flagpoles of colleges around the country, and most public schools jumped on the proclamation. The colleges market themselves because of the additional income. Years back—way back in the days of trolls beneath the bridges, college tuition ran ten bucks an hour, thirty a class, one-fifty a semester—not counting books and fees. Today, after Lamar announced an increase, tuition is over two hundred and hour, six hundred for a three-hour class, three thousand for five classes for one semester—not counting books and fees. So it should come as no surprise that many graduate from college with sizeable student loans. And it should also come as no surprise that there is much talk in Washington about forgiving the loans. While we’re talking about ‘no surprises’ it should come as no surprise that this also an election year, which probably accounts for the sudden lagniappe from the administration. For those saddled with college loans, I can offer no advice except to set up a payment schedule and stick to it. You opted for a convenient financial answer to college. Well, you got it, and now that you’ve graduated, it is time to pay the proverbial piper. For those making ready for college, don’t let emotions or wishful thinking guide your decisions. I once had a superintendent who wanted his daughter to go to Texas A&M before getting her certification as a registered nurse. He claimed the A&M experience would be to her advantage. My Health Occupations instructor, an RN, informed him in no uncertain terms that what really counted was the initials, RN or MD or DO, not A&M. There’s a lot of folks who can’t handle twenty thousand a year tuition, or even six thousand. Gayle and I knew there was no fairy godmother who would swoop down, wave a wand, and hand us money for the girls’ college. So we saved a little each month. We made sacrifices early on so we wouldn’t have to later. We didn’t drive a new car, take a lot of expensive vacations, and that sort of thing. It paid off as both young women went through Lamar’s nursing program and gained RN degree and certification without going into debt. It was a satisfying feeling to have the savings to pay tuition and books each semester. If you go to a college because your parents went there, or because your friends are going, or because your high school counselors favor it like far too many in Southeast Texas prefer University of Texas or Texas A&M, then prepare for hefty expenses. Don’t complain when it’s over. Believe it or not, there is no law saying you have to finish in four years. As hard as it is to believe, there are people who work and take a couple classes a semester. Takes a while longer, but they pay as they go. A novel concept, but it works. Even though Lamar raised its tuition, it is a good school at reasonable prices compared to larger universities. In fact, many of the smaller colleges are good, and a heck of a lot less expensive than the name schools. Believe me, most businesses don’t care where you matriculated and graduated, but that you did.

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