College that you can afford

DO YOU (or your kid) need to go into debt to attend college? Probably not (Shutterstock).

Hey, have I got a deal for you. I will sell you a piece of paper for the wonderful price of $28,000. If you want a really fancy piece of paper, I can let you have it for $50,000.

Sound like a bum deal, doesn’t it? But that – in part – is what’s happening with the student debt crisis in America today. Students taking out loans to get a public four-year college degree, according to the U.S Department of Education, owe an average of $28k. For a private school the number goes up to $50k.

I’m not here to tell you whether Uncle Sam – who holds 92 percent of those loans – should forgive those loans or not. My point is that most of them needn’t even exist.

Prospective college students (and parents), here comes some tough love. Too many folks place too much emphasis on the “status” conferred by a “big name” school. Too many students aren’t sure what they want to study or why. Too many students don’t even belong in college.

Part of the blame belongs with school districts. They make a big deal out of a teenager who gets admitted to a Stanford or MIT. Pretty impressive accomplishment, but is he really more praiseworthy than an immigrant kid who has to work two jobs, help take care of his or her siblings and is the first person in the family to ever graduate high school, let alone attend a college?

We tend to reward the kids who were born on second base and think they hit a double, more than the kid who had to cut down the tree, carve the wood into a baseball bat and wear a batting glove made out of a kitchen mitt.

That kid is most likely to start out at a community college. Admittedly, that’s probably not anything that will cause your principal to shake your hand like a pump handle. But that student – with the help of available aid and grants – will be able to complete two years of school with zero debt and transfer to schools like USC and UCLA, and have those letters on his piece of paper.  Additionally, he or she is more likely to finish a B.A. or B.S. degree after having adjusted to the pace of school at the community college. Here’s a shocker: students who transfer from a JC – on average – have a higher grade point average at the university than “native” students.

As for the prestige issue, don’t trip over that. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times mentioned a survey of major employers in which they were asked to rank the factors that would make someone a desirable employee.

They ranked attitude, mastery of relevant skills and work experience toward the top. Dead last was what university they were graduated from.

I’m not saying don’t go to whatever school have your heart set on. I’m just pointing out there is more than one road to that diploma, and some are a lot more reasonably priced than others.

Jim Tortolano attended a community college and taught journalism there for [mumbled number of ] years.

2 replies »

  1. On the other hand there is something to be said about moving away from home . But yes I agree on your points and would add at Saddleback and Irvine Valley the teachers were just as good as at San Diego State.

  2. CCs are terrific & let me add that the Cal State system is every bit as good as UCLA or USC. Transfer students have lots to offer & we love ’em!

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