Now that the high school diplomas have been handed out, members of the class of 2019 have some difficult choices to make.
As with every year, students can choose to get a job, join the military, enroll at a junior college, enroll at a four-year college or take a year to “find themselves.”
For students who chose the college option, that decision was likely made months or even years ago. By the time most students are sophomores or juniors, their career paths are beginning to take shape.
A good high school guidance counselor can be a valuable resource in choosing a college and helping a student determine how he or she will pay for it. Students lucky enough to have received full-ride scholarships or who have trust funds or rich parents have nothing to worry about — their college is paid for.
For everyone else, there is the prospect of competing for grant dollars or filling out a mountain of student loan paperwork. The majority of students who apply for and receive student loans know next to nothing about interest, the fine print and other terms like income-based repayment.
Even more aggravating, the student loan game has gone unregulated by states or the federal government. Remember the Great Recession of 2008? Remember the regulations it brought forth on the housing industry?
Whether you liked the regulations or not, it stands to reason that home lenders should never have had the ability to loan money to people who did not have the means to repay it.
Why then does the federal student loan system continue to operate unchecked? It’s the biggest loan gamble in the world. The government banks on the fact Johnny will have the ability to land a high-paying job after four years of college, so it agrees to loan him $20,000 or more per year toward the goal.
Johnny does great the first three years of college, but gets in with a wild crowd his senior year. The final year turns into two years and Johnny drops out before the end of the fifth year. And after five years, he’s accrued $100,000 in student loan debt and — because he’s a dropout — secures a part-time job making $12,000 a year.
It’s not hard to see the math doesn’t add up. Johnny’s living with roommates, so he’s got monthly bills — rent, utilities, cellphone, car payment, internet, car insurance and food. After all that, he’s then got to start repaying Uncle Sam for his time at college — and only a couple of those bills can be used as proof of why Johnny doesn’t have money for student loans.
After a few years of barely making ends meet, Johnny asks for loan deferments. However, there’s a limit on how long Johnny can defer. Eventually, Johnny realizes he can’t repay the government and defaults on his loan. It kills his credit and makes it harder for him to have what every American yearns to have — a nice car, a nice house and financial cushion.
This is a story being played out all over America. It’s at near-epidemic levels.
A story printed by Forbes Magazine in February offers a very detailed picture of what it called “America’s $1.5 trillion crisis.” The article says there are 44.7 million borrowers with student loan debt and 11.4% of them are 90 days or more past due on their payments.
What states have the most student loan debt? Luckily, Alabama isn’t at the top of the list, but Georgia is close with $50.7 billion. California has the most at $111.7 billion.
Alabama is eighth on the list in terms of average student loan debt at $31,899 per student. Utah has the lowest average student loan debt at $18,838 per student.
A Forbes article published last year reveals another ugly truth — the price of college is increasing almost eight times faster than wages. The article cites the National Center for Education Statistics, which found the average cost per year for the 2015-2016 academic year was just over $19,000 for a public four-year university. The figure jumps to nearly $40,000 for a private university. These totals include tuition, fees, room and board.
The average for all four-year institutions comes out to $26,120 per year. This brings the total cost of attendance to $104,480 over four years. The comparable cost for the same four-year degree in 1989 was $26,902 ($52,892 adjusted for inflation).
“This means that between the academic years ending in 1989 and 2016, the cost for a four-year degree doubled, even after inflation,” the Forbes article states. “Over that period, the average annual growth rate for the cost to attend a four-year university was 2.6% per year.”
So how much did wages increase from 1989 to 2016? According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, 0.3%. You can see the problem.
What to do about it? First, it’s probably high time the government got out of the student loan business. Maybe it’s time for private banks and credit unions to step in and take a chance on Johnny?
“It would cripple the banking industry,” you might say. “If these kids aren’t able to pay back the government, what makes you think they could pay back Regions or Redstone Federal Credit Union?”
Maybe you’re right, but something could definitely be done about the rising cost of college. Why does the average four-year college cost $26,120 per year? What exactly are our kids paying for? The prestige of a four-year degree?
We understand college professors have to be paid, and universities have overhead costs. However, the fact remains colleges and universities are largely unchecked in terms of overhead. Americans shake their fists at state and federal government and demand they cut unnecessary employees and expenses and trim the fat, but why aren’t we doing that to colleges and universities? It’s a sad fact that Johnny may be borrowing $26,120 per year so relatives and buddies of college administrators can have a cushy job with state retirement benefits.
Each college usually has a board of trustees responsible for overseeing budgets and ensuring fiscal responsibility. These boards should take a long, hard look at the numbers and see how a college education can be more affordable for Johnny.
Athens State University recently approved a tuition increase of 1.9 percent for the 2019-2020 academic year. Board Chairman Ronnie Chronister said the school remains “the most affordable public university in the state.”
For the 2019-20 academic year, a traditional, in-state, full-time, undergraduate student taking 12 credit hours would pay $3,084 per semester ($2,472 in tuition and $612 in fees). If the student took a course load of 12 hours for three semesters (fall, spring, and summer for the full academic year), the total amount for the year would be $9,252.
At Calhoun Community College, a full-time, in-state student would pay $1,930 per semester or $3,860 per year for tuition and fees.
It’s not hard to see why two-year colleges represent a better long-term value for some students.
Tuition freezes are in effect at some four-year schools, including Jacksonville State University, Montevallo University and the University of Alabama campuses in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Huntsville. We applaud those schools’ decision to take a closer look at the bottom line in the interest of helping students.
It would be nice if all colleges would be willing to do the same.