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Paying for College

By Joe Rector

The news today reported student debt is closing in on $1 trillion, more than credit card debt which anemically trails at between $650-850 billion. ”Woe is us” seems to be the cry from the millions who have accrued debts for education.

According to Bloomberg, college tuitions and fees have increased 1,120 percent since records began in 1978. That’s even more than medical expenses that have tried to drive Americans to the poor house. Universities such as Harvard are requiring and getting $60,000 per academic year from a student. While I understand that Harvard is the gold standard for colleges, the cost of an education there is becoming prohibitive.

In our own back yard, the average cost for tuition, fees, room and board and books at UT hits $22,000 for an in-state student. Of course, Tennessee high school graduates can receive and maintain the Lottery Scholarship, a hefty $3000 yearly amount. That knocks a chunk out of every school year, and it is a deal for scoring a 21 on the ACT and maintaining a 3.0 grade point average.

At another state school, Tennessee Tech University, the cost per year is only $15,500. Why one institution is $6500 more a year than another one is a question that might be asked. Anyway, the HOPE Scholarship cuts the cost to $12,500.

Yes, college is an expensive choice, but it’s not for everyone. Some folks will find satisfaction in a technical school where they can learn a craft that will provide a solid income. Don’t turn up a nose to those areas because the individual who answers a call for a broken air conditioning system or frozen pipes wears a big smile when he hands customers the bills.

Another alternative might be attending a school like Pellissippi State for the first two years. Per year, a student spends approximately $7000, but with the HOPE Scholarship, $1500 is cut from that total. Yes, it’s still expensive, but not any more so than buying a $5500 used car or motorcycle. Most parents would gladly let their children live at home for these two years, especially if the savings can run into the thousands of dollars.

At some point, students must accept the responsibilities for their own education. That means they need to pitch in to help pay for college. Part-time jobs can make huge dents in the costs. The lowest paid McDonalds employee (the fry cook) is paid less than $8 an hour. If an individual works 20 hours a week, he can earn $8000 a year. That covers almost all the costs above what the HOPE Scholarship pays at schools like TTU. Too, if a high school student is intent upon attending college, he can begin his part-time work early so that he has a nest egg by the time he is ready to attend.

Is attending college a pricy thing? You bet it is. Should costs be cut to fall more in line with other things in our economy? Yes is again the answer. Should students who borrowed money for college have the debt forgiven? NO! They have an obligation to pay their debts, just as we all do. Too often, students CHOOSE to attend expensive universities, and many use student loans to buy cars, entertainment, and expensive items to make life nicer. That’s what bugs me.

My brothers, our wives, and I struggled to pay for college. We worked during the summers and the school year to pay for our educations. Plenty of beans and corn and bologna sandwiches were consumed during those lean years. In the end, we graduated with degrees and no debt. Was it hard? It certainly was, but the experience made us stronger.

The time has come for young people to stop whining, stop feeling entitled, and figure out a way to pay for most of the college expenses without loans. That might mean they have to attend a state school; perhaps they will have to work a job after classes and forego the social aspects of college life. Maybe it means they’ll have to join the service and then use their benefits as veterans. In any case, the decisions are theirs. Either figure it out or don’t go to college. The only thing I don’t want to hear is the whining about how unfair life is.

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