A Summer Read: Weighing The Cost Of A College Education

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

When the naughty boy fraternity Delta was finally kicked off campus in the 1978 National Lampoon classic “Animal House,” the impish “Bluto” Blutarsky, in the person of John Belushi, declared: “Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the…Peace Corps!”

Not a bad game plan, some are wondering today.

Consider this as you lounge on the beach this weekend, fish in Pleasant Bay or cruise to Nantucket: With the spring graduation of thousands of college seniors, many graduates and their parents—braced today with the debilitating cost of a college degree that often has extended the traditional four years to seven so students can work off some of the debt—are asking the question: Is there a better way?

Once the bloom is off the rose of graduation, the math is numbing for graduates and their parents. I feel the pain. My 22-year-old son, Brendan (a product of Nauset Regional High School) just graduated from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. I also have a daughter, Colleen, who is a junior at Elon University, a son, Conor, who will be a senior at Nauset next year, and a home equity line that is wheezing.

The average college graduate leaves school with almost $20,000 in student loans and $2,000 in credit card debt, notes the Chicago Tribune in a Sunday financial piece. And parents, who do not qualify for financial aid and have little tuition reserve, are often left with $50,000 or more in debt for each graduate. Ante up the cost of three or four kids and the sum gives new meaning to the term: mid life crisis.  

There is no relief in sight for the next generation. With the outlay of a college education expected to increase at five percent a year, the average annual cost of a private college in 15 years is pegged at $51,664. Factor five percent a year to the already nose bleed cost of sending a child to Harvard, MIT, Boston College or Boston University, and you’re bracing for an annual expense of $90,000 by 2017.

“(Higher) education is at a crisis point, the result of uncontrolled cost increases over the past 20 years that have greatly exceeded the rate of inflation or annual consumer price indexes,” the Houston Chronicle observes in an editorial. “Tuition forces parents to pull all-nighters, too,” adds Paul Daugherty in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

If something isn’t done soon to slow or defray the escalating cost of a college or graduate school education, low and moderate-income students and their families will be stranded on the bus. An estimated quarter million prospective students a year are now being shut out of the system because of tuition costs and other factors, according to The National Center of Pubic Policy and Higher Education.

There should be no higher a priority in our national agenda. The price of a college education is a non-partisan issue that requires the full attention of Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Otherwise, the national landscape one day will be littered with Bluto Blutarskys.

And that isn’t funny.

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