On Wednesday, the New York Times ran an article entitled, “College May Become Unaffordable for Most in U.S.” The author, Tamar Lewin, did an excellent job of wrapping up a multitude of issues into a concise presentation. Most of today’s junior and senior high school students (and, in some cases, their families) are facing a tough battle to finance a college education.
The economy is now officially in a recession, better compensated job prospects for parents are bleak, and the private lenders who offer student loans generally fall into one of two categories: part of the larger kickback scandal or no longer making student loans available. The federal Direct Loan service is still a viable option for most college students and college prospects. Yet as the sources of private student loan financing are drying up, the cost of a college education is increasing. Lewin writes:
Over all, the report found, published college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007, adjusted for inflation, while median family income rose 147 percent. Student borrowing has more than doubled in the last decade, and students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families.
That’s a scary number, huh? Tuition and fees have jumped 439% in a matter of twenty-five years while incomes have only grown by 147%. Those who research the student loan industry as well as the affordability of higher education have got to be giving a double take to those numbers. That’s frightening. More from the New York Times article:
Among the poorest families — those with incomes in the lowest 20 percent — the net cost of a year at a public university was 55 percent of median income, up from 39 percent in 1999-2000. At community colleges, long seen as a safety net, that cost was 49 percent of the poorest families’ median income last year, up from 40 percent in 1999-2000.
Even the community college option is becoming more and more out of reach for the poorest families. What incentive does an elementary school student or a high school student in a troubled school district have to achieve greater success if they can’t even afford to continue their education at the community college level?
In New Jersey, we have the New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship (NJ STARS) program. The NJ STARS program, more or less, provides a vehicle for high-achieving high school students to attend the local community college for free. If their grades are acceptable while in the program, they can receive a stipend to finish their education at a 4-year institution. It’s a good deal if you think about it. If the program existed when I was graduating high school and moving on to college, I would have jumped on it immediately. That assumes, of course, that I would have known about the program and that I had the benefit of my current hindsight.
If you have the opportunity I suggest taking a few minutes to read the article linked above. In fact, share it with any college-aged people in your family and if you live in New Jersey, be sure to bring the NJ STARS program into the discussion with your high school-aged family members.