The High Cost of Education? Are all loans bad?

If you remember my first post in this series, I wanted to address the apparent insurmountable hurdle of taking on large debt when going to school.  After reading this series, you should now realize that it is possible to afford college, and even graduate school. Also, you were given many tips on how to approach your education to get the most out of it, and even position yourself for graduate school.  Today, I want to address the realities of student loans.

I would try to avoid loans if possible, and if you need to take out a loan, I suggest you do something reasonable.  My student Bryan showed that he was able to take out a small manageable loan to give him some breathing room when he went to college.  The one benefit of a college loan, as opposed to a car loan is that when you take on a college loan, you are investing in yourself, rather than a hunk of metal that will depreciate the minute you get it.  Consider the $24,000 expenditure I presented in the first post: my friend Mike said it best:

…in my mind, there is nothing wrong with loans for college. Very rarely can you find an investment worth more than yourself. If you borrowed the $24k for worwic/SU option, that’s a monthly loan payment of $276 for 10 years. If you cap your loan payment at 10% of your net annual income, you only need an annual income of about $35k to afford it. If your college degree doesn’t lead to a career making at least $35k, you probably have issues unrelated to your level of education.

Finally, one last parting shot from me: life is a generational race.  My great grandfather was a goat herder in Sicily at the turn of the Century.  He sacrificed greatly for our family so that we could have a better life – and sailed across the ocean to America.  My immigrant grandfather had an 8th grade education and was a scrap metal collector.  He sacrificed greatly for our family so that we could have a better life.  My other grandfather was a plumber with an 8th grade education.  He sacrificed greatly for our family so that we could have a better life.  My Dad had a high school education, and was a police officer.  He sacrificed greatly for our family so we could have a better life.  He could have done so much more in the Police force had he gone back to night school, but he did not see his short term gain worth the impact that he could have on my brothers and me.  My mom also  sacrificed as a stay-at-home mom.

My brothers and I were the first in our family line to get a college education (about 82 years after my grandparents stepped off the boat to America).  I was a ‘B’ student in high school and college, yet wound up with a PhD. and am a Professor – 98 years after my ancestors stepped off the boat.  I had opportunities to go much further in my career, publish more research, and guest lecture around the world, but felt that spending time with my family was worth the sacrifice. Therefore, like my Dad, I turned down a lot of opportunities that would be beneficial to “me”.  As I see my children’s lives, I am so glad that I followed the examples of my parents.

My daughter graduated with highest honors and is a Fulbright Scholar.  My son is a 4.0 college freshman and in the honors program.  After 110 years since my family first set foot in America, my children are on their way to eclipsing my academic achievement, and certainly that of my grandparents.  Yet, I am very aware that my children are not “better” than my grandparents.  In fact, none of us can really appreciate what they did for us by foregoing their own momentary self-satisfaction to make sure that we had a better life.  Our insane college debt is mostly due to our wanting it all now, and not being willing to wait, or achieve a little less so that those who follow in our wake can have a better chance at life.

My grandfather never saw my children, but I like to think he foresaw them.  And he made decisions that allow us to be who we are today.

I hope that as you and your family plan your college future you will remember to do what is manageable, smart, and enjoy the ride.

The High Cost of Education? Another student’s perspective

Today I want to introduce you to my student Bryan.  Bryan was another one of those students who showed maturity from the outset and was a real go-getter.  He also had to take out some student loans.  I think that it is important to see that you can take out loans responsibly, as Brian did.  But Bryan did so much more than that – while it appears that he was involved in everything, the truth of the matter is, Bryan was involved in meaningful things.  You could say that Brian did not have any empty calories in his educational activities.  And while his post doesn’t say it, I can tell you that Brian had a lot of fun – not Animal House kind of fun, but really fun adventures that doubled as opportunities for his personal growth and future career. 

I started my college career rather unsuccessfully at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, so I transferred to Harford Community College – the cost was much less than that of a 4 year university. I was able to pay for my community college tuition completely from a job I had at the time. During this time, I also enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve – getting a monthly paycheck for drill weekends and a smaller version of the GI Bill. The Reserve GI Bill completely covered my tuition at community college, allowing me to work only part time. While it did not completely cover expenses at SU, it did defray them enough where I could take out smaller loans. Having completed my General Education in community college, I was able to focus solely on courses directly relevant to my B.S. in Geography when I transferred to Salisbury.

During my first semester I got involved with the Geographic Society (which I would later become President of) and started making friends inside of the department. I spent a lot my time in the GIS Lab, making and cementing friendships over challenging labs. I asked if any professors needed an extra hand with research, and starting with the next fall and lasting until graduation, I was able to have multiple paying jobs in the department as a tutor, a GIS Lab assistant, as well as being an assistant for Spatial Statistics and the Intro to GIS courses.  Apart from a paycheck, the extra activities reinforced my knowledge and I was able to help others.  By showing eagerness to work hard and support the Department, my Professors were very happy to write me letters of recommendation for internships and graduate school. Continue reading

The high cost of education? Graduate School, Part II

In my last post I talked about not paying to go to graduate school by taking advantage of either teaching assistantships or research assistantships.

If you’ve taken advantage of the smaller school experience we talked about in the first post, here are some things to do in order to make sure you are competitive for an assistantship in graduate school.   Continue reading

The High Cost of Education? Graduate school, Part I

In my previous posts (here, here, and here), I discussed affordable ways to obtain a college degree, gave some tips on making the most of your college experience, and also provided a testimony of one of my students who got his degree from the GI bill.  Today, I want to focus on graduate school.

So you’ve just read about affordable ways to get your college education.  Now you may be wondering “what about graduate school“?  That is a good question, and below is my single bit of advice for going to graduate school: Continue reading

The High Cost of Education? How one student did it with the GI Bill

Today I want to introduce you to one of my students: Patrick S.  As you will read below, Pat came to Salisbury University as part of the GI bill, and took a number of courses with me.  I love having students from the military: they are bright, respectful, and hard working.  Pat was also one of the best cartographers I’ve met, and we actually hired him to create all the maps and graphics for my book.  You will see from Pat’s story that he made the most of his military experience and was able to take advantage of the benefits of the GI Bill.  What I particularly like is that Pat laid out the details for how he got it done.  I plan to have other former students tell their stories as well.

My Experience on the Costs of College While Utilizing the Post 911 G.I. Bill

Hello, my name is Patrick and I am a veteran who recently finished exhausting my Post-911 G.I. Bill benefits while attending undergraduate and graduate school at two different state universities. While the cost of college has exorbitantly increased since I first graduated high school back in the mid-1990s, the options that many students still have today to mitigate those costs are very lucrative. One of these options is military service and the subsequent Post-911 G.I. Bill benefits which can alleviate most, if not all of the associated tuition costs, book fees, and living expenses one arduously faces while attending college. If one plans correctly and lives conservatively, they can serve four years in the military and finish a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree after their military service without even having to juggle a part-time job in the process. This can afford much more needed time for studying and other college obligations. This was the case during my experience utilizing the Post-911 G.I. Bill for the last four years. Continue reading

The High Cost of Education? Making the most of your experience

In the next couple of weeks I will be introducing you to some of my student friends who got the most out of their education, even though they did not have a lot of money for college.  But today I want to give you a few tips for making sure your (or your child’s) college experience is the best it can be.

In the documentary Inside the Ivory Tower – Is College Worth the Cost that I referred to in my last post a parent asked an Admissions Counselor at Wesleyan College “I am going to be spending a lot of money sending my child here – can you guarantee that he will have a job when he graduates?“.  The counselor seemed somewhat perplexed in answering the parent (obviously CNN chose the best footage to make the point).  My answer to that question would have been “it’s really up to your child“.  Here is what I mean: in today’s economy it isn’t enough to just have a college degree.  It isn’t enough to have a high GPA.  What you get out of your college degree, and your chances at a job, have a lot to do with what you put in to the process.  Here are some top ideas:

Continue reading

The High Cost of Education?

cornelltowerAs the masthead says “no opinions, just code“, I rarely give my opinions about things.  But, I recently saw an interesting documentary on CNN called Inside the Ivory Tower – Is College Worth the Cost and since I am a Professor I thought I’d give another perspective.  I totally get where these guys were coming from, as they showed example after example of students accumulating upwards of $200,000 in student debt.  Many of the interviews showed bewildered parents torn between their limited finances and the prospect of having to pay $60,000 a year for a college education for their children.

These stories always focus on the extreme cases – the $60,000 a year education.  But, there are other options.  I was a product of the SUNY system: Oneonta, Buffalo, and Syracusefor my bachelors, masters, and doctorate, and am a big believer in what SUNY does.  My undergraduate education was pretty cheap ($600 a semester!), and my masters education was also cheap ($900 a semester).  For my doctorate, I only went because I had a graduate assistantship and didn’t have to pay.   Now, I know that college costs have gone up dramatically, but I wondered if there is a reasonable route to get your kid through college. Continue reading