When something is in print, it may very well be forever. I was recently reminded of this as a friend of mine posted a column on Facebook that I wrote more than 23 years ago.
It was a photo of a yellowed newspaper clipping with the headline, “Bouncing baby requires quite a bundle.” I wrote it in September of 1996, as a very pregnant editor of the Clinton County News.
The column focused on the financial demands of parents, and the pressure to provide college tuition for our children. At that time, Elizabeth was 2, and Emily was supposed to be two weeks out — but, in reality, was born only days after the column went to press.
I wrote, “Right now, to send a child to Michigan State University for four years costs about $42,000, which includes tuition, books, room, board and miscellaneous expenses.”
And, “Based on a 4% annual increase, … a four-year MSU degree will likely cost about $85,000 by the time my unborn child steps onto campus.”
At that time, spending $85,000 sounded astronomical and somewhat unbelievable — that was the cost of my first house. But here we are, and it’s even worse than predicted.
According to the MSU Office of Financial Aid website and the Office of Admissions, tuition, books, room, board and miscellaneous expenses for one year amounted to $28,862. The tuition component (30 credits) rose from $13,650 when Emily started college (2015-16) to $14,524 (a flat rate for 12-18 credits) for the 2019-20 school year.
For comparison, Ohio State University’s Student Financial Aid website reports those costs to be $27,912 for the 2019-20 school year, with tuition rising from $9,718 in 2015-16 to $11,084 in 2019-20.
So, while the prediction was somewhere around $85,000, it was really like more than $100,000 to attend MSU for four years.
EARLY GUESS: When I was pregnant with my second child in 1996, I wrote this column, which predicted the cost of a college education. (Photo by Angie Zell)
Tuition now roughly triple that of 1980
The published tuition fees of American colleges have roughly tripled over the past 40 years, rising faster than income levels.
Last year’s graduates with a bachelor’s degree averaged about $29,200 in student loan debt — a record in the U.S.
That is about a 2% increase from the Class of 2017, whose members graduated with an average debt of $28,650, according to a new report by the Institute for College Access and Success.
The report also said the average debt for Michigan students is $32,158, with 59% of students having debt. In Ohio, the average debt is $30,323, with 60% with debt.
In my column. I wrote about the squeeze on middle-income families, who don’t have enough wiggle room in their budgets to afford the kind of savings needed for college, while making too much money to qualify for financial aid.
To make matters worse, the demand for college degrees — even on jobs you wouldn’t think would require that amount of schooling — is escalating.
I wrote, “I believe in the American dream of my children being a little better off than we are. But, I also believe there’s nothing wrong with children, who are legally no longer children at the age of 18, helping themselves … Some of the responsibility should rest on their shoulders — get a part-time job, study hard to get a scholarship, and take out a student loan.”
Any type of contribution pays off
I’ve always believed it’s necessary for kids to have some skin in the game, whether it be college tuition, purchasing a car or upgrading a phone. It shows responsibility, accountability, endurance. Both Elizabeth and Emily received a couple of minor scholarships. But for the most part, they worked several part-time jobs and — something I didn’t expect — they both joined the military. In addition to their degrees, Emily also is now a sergeant in the Army National Guard, and Elizabeth is a first lieutenant in the Marines. The military didn’t pay all the bills, but it certainly helped.
And, they both attended community colleges and transferred — Emily to MSU and Elizabeth to Ferris State University — to finish out their degrees. Both graduated with substantially fewer student loans than the average.
My friend uncovered and posted this old column just a few weeks after I watched, with great pride, Emily graduate on Dec. 14 from MSU, with a crop and soil science degree and a minor in international agriculture.
I don’t know what the answer is to the student debt crisis, but the Institute for College Access and Success offered several suggestions to reduce debt loads, including:
• Colleges should ensure they’re clear about how much it will cost to attend.
• States should invest more in higher education.
• Congress should double the Pell Grant, a scholarship given to low-income students.
It’s a beginning. I would add that I hope employers reconsider demands for college degrees for jobs that clearly can be filled by candidates with a two-year degree that has a mentoring or job shadowing program.