My intuition tells me our family will be drowning in tuition

imageAs parents, my wife and I have been very honest with our three teenagers about the level of financial support they can expect from us for college. To do this, I used my annual donation to our local public broadcasting station as an example.

“You know how they have different levels of supporters? And how the more money you contribute, the nicer the gift they send you as a show of their appreciation for your support — like a T-shirt or really nice backpack, or if you’re a gold-level member an entire season of your favorite PBS show in a special limited edition boxed set on Blu-Ray?”

Our kids nodded.

“As a gift, we received a refrigerator magnet for a show that was canceled three years ago.”

Blank stares from our kids.

“So yeah, the only free-ride scholarship you’re going to get from us will have already been spent on food and your unlimited texting and data plans.” 

Because of this, and because our teenagers were still staring blankly into space with their mouths open, my wife and I attended a scholarship fair where local community organizations were providing information about the many scholarships they offer. In addition, there were three workshops discussing everything from how to apply for federal education grants, to tips on interviewing and properly filling out scholarship applications. It wasn’t long before, much like our teenagers, my wife and I were staring blankly with our mouths open.

The good news is, since our oldest is only a junior, we have a whole year to “guide him” through the process of preparing the necessary paperwork, writing essays, filling out applications and filing them before their deadlines. The bad news? Putting quote marks around “guide him” is another way of saying “remind him incessantly until he can’t stand us anymore and we’re all so frustrated we don’t care if he LIVES UNDER A BRIDGE!”

Ha! Ha! Just kidding! We love our kids! But coincidentally, the two bridges in town have recently been power-sprayed and offer stunning views of the river. Just saying…

Anyway, what we’ve discovered about the scholarship application process is that there IS a lot of money out there, available from local organizations and clubs as well as county, state and federal funds specifically earmarked for college education. It’s essentually our tax dollars at work. And since I’ve been paying taxes nonstop since I was 17, I have no problem getting a return on my investment to help our kids receive a college education.

Here’s the problem. After much consideration and analysis, including a mathematical formula involving median income combined with cost projections, annual inflation predictions and an old abacus I found at a garage sale, I was able to determine what I believe is the biggest financial challenge facing students and their families when it comes to continuing their education beyond high school:

Colleges cost too damned much.

In fact, if I didn’t know better I’d say colleges are being run by pharmaceutical companies — which would make sense since, coincidentally, most of the side effects found on drug labels are the same symptoms I felt while researching annual tuition costs: headache, chest pain, shortness of breath, vision loss, diarrhea, vomiting, paranoia, erectile disfunction…

According to the American College Board, the average annual cost of tuition at a private college is $32,405, or if you’re looking for a real bargain, $23,893 a year to attend a public college from out of state. However, your best bet is to enroll in a community college as an in-state resident, where the average tuition is $9,410.

Which, by the way, is still $9,310 more than we’ll have saved up for our oldest son’s college fund. Fortunately, there are lots of scholarships for students who consistently earn a 4.0 grade-point average.

Ours just don’t happen to be any of them.

They are average students who excel in subjects they are interested in. Truth be told,  they’re a lot like their father.

Who, I should probably mention, never went to college. It’s not that I’m advocating against receiving a college education. I’m just saying I’ve owned two homes and done alright without one because ultimately, with or without a degree, what matters most is a drive to succeed and willingness to work hard for it. No degree can guarantee success over an individual’s desire to be successful.

Do I want my doctor to have a medical degree? You bet. Should a lawyer be required to have a law degree? Certainly. Would I be ok with a doctor without a medical degree operating on the average lawyer?

Most likely.

If our kids choose to attend college, we’ll find a way to make it happen. The question is whether the rising cost of higher education is making it less valuable, especially when compared to what can be achieved with a high degree of dedication and hard work instead.

And the freedom to pursue your life’s passions debt free.










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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

90 thoughts on “My intuition tells me our family will be drowning in tuition”

  1. Most of the scholarships I’ve looked at what me to be a full time science student, which by the way, is really hard. So I end up relying on financial aid.

    1. I have to question why they require you to be a full-time student. In the same way a lot of colleges require students to live on-campus (and pay for housing, food, etc) the first year when, in some cases, they live within walking or driving distance. I’m really glad you can get financial aid, Heather, and hope it doesn’t create hardship for you later. Keep working hard — you sound industrious and resourcefull. We need people lihe you 😉

      1. I actually don’t know why they want you to be full-time. I guess to show your grit? That’s my guess. I have tons of grit – and I was full-time at one point, but math is difficult for me so I have to be half-time (for me, taking a math class and a science class is like being full-time).

        1. Full-time also means more tuition, I suppose. But it sounds like you aresmart enough to know your limitations — better to get good grades in two classes than mediocre grades in four. For me, math is still full-time because I’m so horrible at it.

          1. Thanks.
            More tuition, mo’money, mo’ debt. I try not the think about it.
            I’m pretty bad at math too until I practiced it every day. Now I’m kind of better at it 🙂

  2. Yes, those debts are a rough way to get started in life. It makes one take pause. My oldest is done with school but I read a lot when she was looking and seeking out tuition that wouldn’t burden her for life. Even local schools that were known to be cost effective were inflated. Some say it was due to the push to take federal loans, just like the old doctor v insurance. Insurance will pay so docs charge more flim-flam. It was frustrating to feel like there weren’t many choices.

    But you’re right, there is cash out there to be had if they will work for it and write killer essays.

    p.s. I was looking for a way to use flim-flam in a sentence today and I have done so early in the day! Try it out-it is a fun thing to say.

    1. I agree with your comparison to the medical industry, and it’s over-inflated costs because “someone” will pay it through a federal or state program. The problem is, there aren’t nearly as many someones as there are everyone elses.

      *cough cough* Sorry, I’ve got some flem-flam in my through…. 😉

  3. Ha! Well said. I loved the freshly painted bridges with a water front view. Sometimes that feels like our retirement plan.

    Community college is a less expensive option as are trade schools. I kid you not, our plumbers and electricians around these parts earn at least as much as our doctors, if not more. Even Einstein said if he had to do it all over, he would have become a plumber.

    One thing we seem to have lost sight of, education does not necessarily translate into money, prestige, or happiness. I have a friend who likes to constantly remind me she has a degree in business management. True, but she’s never actually had a job! It’s somewhat funny, but you have to actually put your education to work or else it doesn’t really count for much. The personal satisfaction that comes from education can be done for free at public libraries and through virtual education.

    1. So, so, sooo true. People tend to look at trade schools as a “lesser” degree when, in fact, they are full of people who already know what they want to do as a career! No spending $30,000 a year deciding what they are interested in. And they become certified in something that’s valuable and in most cases pays extremely well. If they had a humor columnst trade school, I would’ve totally gone to that…

  4. Well done Ned. I agree with every single word and can totally relate 150% it’s craziness! College is very expensive, there are no guarantees and you can still make a decent living without going to college. And we don’t have the debt either! We do okay without having degrees. Good luck!

    1. Thanks, Lisa! It’s not that I don’t see a value in going to college, but I honestly question the return of that investment when you’re just going there to “find out what you want to do” or just for the sake of having a degree. It’s a lot of money to shell out just for a piece of paper that doesn’t guarantee much anymore. Plus, as you said, you can still make a decent living without it if you apply yourself.

      1. I am so agreeing to all of this being that our youngest is a Jr. In face I couldn’t agree anymore!!! Exactly! We do ok for not having one. The funny thing is…my husband makes $.25 less than someone doing exactly the same thing but went to college and guess what? We don’t owe any money😉 Neither of us are dissatisfied with what we do!

          1. AMEN! Now that I’m writing, I just need to find a way to get paid for it! I’m not trying to be rich, I just want to quit my day job and do this full time🙌🏼😆😊 I admire you so much Ned!!

            1. There are so many more options now than there have been when it comes to earning a living at writing. The down side? There are also more writers. It’s a trade off and the trick is finding a way to stand out from all the white noise. In the end, I’m a firm believer that if you just concentrate on the writing amd developing your voice, the rest will take care of itself 😉

                1. I forgot to mention, I didn’t see a “Follow Me” button on the side of your blog page. It’s an option you should add to your page to makeit easier for others to follow! Tracking you down through a private investigator is expensive… 😉

                2. LMAO😂 Okay, I will check it out, thanks! I certainly can’t afford that with not having a “degree” either😆 P.S. Not all people are cut out for college👌🏼

  5. In an age where it seems that computers and non-tenure-or-benefit-eligible professors would make college much LESS expensive, it almost sent us to the poorhouse for our ONE child to go to a local medium-priced college. She went with kids who were funded entirely by entitlement programs and got a degree that makes her eligible to work in some really awful human services positions for very low wages that don’t cover her basic bills. Seems like a degree isn’t worth going into debt for unless the degree is in something with a high salary and good job opportunities like STEM.

    I’m with “insanity” above – the people in this area who are doing very well are the tradesmen. They’re in high demand and essentially call their own shots.

    1. As far as I’m concerened, people who pursue a career to help the underprivileged should be the ones getting paid to go to college. Not only are they a gift to society, as you mentioned they generally don’t earn a decent living once they graduate. It’s like they’re paying twice.

  6. Did you really never go to college, Ned? If so, you’re my hero!

    After having raised 3 kids, who all went o college despite their parents’ poverty, I have a few things to say:

    1. It does get easier after the first one, at least insofar as filling out all those applications. Once you’ve done one, you can copy and paste to all the others – and assuming your income doesn’t change (mine never did), you can use the same figures each year for each child – much like filing out those income tax forms for Uncle Sam.

    2. You will have at least one child who will be offered a full or near-full scholarship, but will turn it down in order to follow his/her current love interest to the college of that person’s choice, only to subsequently find out that that love interest is gay. I know. It happened to us. That child is now $60,000 in debt to the student loan people. Serves her right.

    3. Do NOT apply for Parent Plus loans if you can avoid it. Seems easy enough – until those bills start coming in AFTER your kid is out of college and you still have to pay for it. I know. Trust me.

    4. No matter what you do, or don’t do, it will never be enough. No matter what degree they do, or don’t, get, they’ll still wind up working at Starbucks. Get them a coffee grinder now and send them off on their own.

    Glad to be of help. Contact me whenever you need further encouragement.

        1. Thank you, Ned. I’ve always felt sub-human because I also never went to college, although my husband went all the way through graduate school and obtained his J.D. (you can imagine some of the arguments we’ve had over the years). Learning that you’ve succeeded without a degree makes me feel so much better, like maybe now I can hold my head up higher.

          BTW, since I poke a little friendly fun at you in my latest post, you might want to take a peek at it:

          1. I’m so glad to hear that. I think a lot of people feel like they aren’t as “accomplished” by not having a degree — which is nonsense 😉

            And yes, I better check it out to make sure my reputation hasn’t been tarnished. Or improved…

            1. Many years ago, some scholarly institution did a study of well-established professional people, in which it was discovered that something like 75% of those people felt like frauds when applauded for their accomplishments. I guess it’s a very human trait.

    1. Also, if you had any savings, they will all be depleted after paying for the first kid’s education, which will make it easier to apply for need-based financial aid for the younger kids.

  7. Our eldest saves money, so she was able to pay off her student debt in no time at all. Now our middle child, is in debt up to her eyeballs, because of five years of university and a year of graduate school, it will take her about 12 years to pay it all off. She couldn’t get a job in her field in Canada, so she has left the country to teach in South Korea, which is one aspect is a plus – a life experience.

    1. Life experience is worth a lot, and something no college can really provide. I hate to hear about all the debt she acquired, which is such a burden to carry into your early adulthood. But she sounds like the type of person who has a strong will and will find a way. Good for her — And You 😉

  8. This is an interesting question because I am in the process of finishing my degree right now. I am registered to take an online class back at the college I started out with in 1981. ONE 3 hour online class?? $1197.00 PLUS books, fees, etc. However I have also been taking classes at the local (very good) community college. I am registered for Spring 2016 classes, 9 hours.. plus books and fees is “only” $1050. But if I want my Bachelor’s Degree from my original school, it’s going to cost more than it would have for the handful of classes I still need than it did to take the 53 hours I already have!? Geez…
    Then, once I have the degree, was it really worth all of the money? Well, my ego says yes! But I am still trying to weigh the benefits vs costs… :-/

    1. I am assuming your original college is “out-of-state,” which is the reason for taking it online? If so, I don’t understand why people are punished for attending a school from another part of the country. I realize colleges want you to stay in-state and attend them. But when you’re telecommuting for the class online, it seems ridiculous. I applaud you for pursuing your education goals and would never poo-poo that. I just don’t understand why it has to cost so much. At this stage, though, it’s a choice you’re making as an establshed adult. Some people spend $40,000 on the car they always wanted as a sign they’ve “made” it. Others take a $15,000 trip to see the world. For you, it’s finishing the degree you started more than 20 years ago. I see nothing wrong with that 😉

      1. My original school is in KY. i live in Texas now, but I believe (can’t swear) that the online classes are the same cost no matter where you live. I have asked the question though because I actually have property in KY in my name that I could use as an address and get the fee lower, but I don’t think it will matter. I am only a couple of semesters away from my degree which feels good. I just wish I had taken school as serious then as I do now. I am one of those weird people who enjoys going to school, so we shall see what they say. I would like to have my degree from my original school… 🙂

        1. I totally get that — wanting a degree from from the school you attended in Ky., appreciating your education more as an adult. And like you, I don’t get why an online class would charge the same as an in-school class. Craziness…

  9. Oh, Ned. Welcome to this crazy world of college craziness. It’s quite a ride and you’ve got to hold on for dear life! My son is now a senior in college and my daughter a sophomore. Happy to offer any solicited and especially unsolicited advice – any time! Like right now. Check out these posts I wrote, they could shed some light where the darkness looms!

    1. Thanks, BHC! I remember reading “How to survive a college visit with your teen,” and absolutely loved it! The other two I am looking forward to reading… even though they may give me nightmares at this point 😉

  10. My younger brother just got a job at a private boarding school (grades 9-12). Because he’s employed there, his 3 kids will get to attend, tuition free. One kid isn’t in high school until next year. I calculated that if my bro works there for at least 5 years, it will cover 10 years worth of tuition. A boarding student there pays $54,550 per year ( Talk about crazy costs of education! And this isn’t even college. I think my brother’s onto something, getting $545,500. worth of schooling for free. (Yes, they’ll have to pay for books and some fees). My son? He’ll probably be going to our local community college, at least as a start.

    1. I think more and more people are looking to their local community college as a start — and a smarter, more cost effective way of continuing their education. My oldest graduated from high school two years ago and makes good money as a waitress. She has her own place and lives comfortably. Now that she has some money in the bank, she is looking into our community college. Smart girl (proud papa) 😉

      1. If any of your kids are interested in a maritime career, employment after graduation is exceedingly high, and the pay is excellent. When I decided to make that jump, I had little money. I was able to pay off my loans within 12 months of graduating because I worked in deep sea shipping. Just a thought.

        1. It definitely seems like the best bet is to know what you want to do before you start college and specialize in something; it’s the specialties that make the most return on that education investment. And kudos to you for rolling up your sleeves and making it happen 😉

  11. i had 3 teenaged girls at the same time i went to grad school, so we worked it out with a combo of working, student loans, grants, scholarships and spit. i helped where i could but it was up to the girls, if they were motivated, with my help, to find their way through. they became really resilient woman who can think on their feet and i’m happy they have that skill set. there are many avenuesm and each of them took a crazy zig zag course through the school years. somehow, as with everything else, we all survived. if a child is more interested in pursuing an education in the world as opposed to college, that’s a great way too, i don’t think there is really a straight course of action for everyone.

    1. First, my applause and appreciation for being an amazing parent who sent three self-motivated and seelf-reliant people into the world. Secondly, I agree: continuing education is a consideration, not a requirement. We have to find our own way, depending on our pursuits — and neither comes with a guarantee.

  12. Best wishes, support, and virtual hugs to you and your wife as you embark upon the next stage. Now..scratch that first sentence, and just know I’ll send sedatives and hard liquor as the days become more difficult.
    My daughter is a senior in college and we have paid everything (minus the first year full-ride golf scholarship). We’ve been fortunate–scratch that–she has been fortunate. Next year she’s off to nursing school where she will be footing the entire bill…pay no attention to the happy dance in the middle of the country. Only two years left before the next one goes.

    Psst: Take a peek at the following free (I think) app we heard about on Shark Tank (the ONE time I watched it). It’s called Scholly and it contains information and web addresses to hundreds of available scholarships. It’s worth a shot. Even if that shot is Jack and Coke after the first bill arrives 🙂

    1. Hahaha! I’m holding you to it. ALL of it! And I’ll definitely check out the Scholly app. The one time I watched Shark Tank, some guy was trying to get funding for 4×4 plots of grass that people in apartments can use for their pets to poop on, then have “refreshed” with a new plot each week. Clearly, yours was a much betterr episode.

  13. Never would’ve guessed you’d not been to college, and for that I admire you more. I went to college for 5 years for an English degree. So I could write. Or something. And now, some 2x-years later I am still writing unpublished bs. But I like my bs, and that’s all that matters, right?

    I recently looked up the cost of colleges, you know, just for shits and giggles, and I nearly fainted. My son is a high school freshman and even if I started saving now, I wouldn’t have enough to pay for a years’ worth of text books. Any chance either one of you could become a professor at a community college? Tuition for all dependents is free. At least for the first 2 years, until they have to transfer to a 4-year institution. We’ve already told the kids they’re starting there (hubs is a professor).

    1. No writing is BS if it comes from heart and inspiration, regardless of its “readership.” And your writing is clearly of heart and inspiration. Without question, some of the most remarkable works of writing will be seen by fewer than a dozen sets of eyes.

      And while I’ve taught a few classes at our local community college over the years, I’ve yet to be asked to teach on a regular basis. Probably because I heat Italian sausage in the microwave for lunch… 😉

  14. Not to knock your achievements, Ned, but If there are things that motivate determination and willingness to work hard, $100K in student loans is one of those things. 🙂

  15. When I go have an omelet at Perkins, I tell the waitresses how ironic it is that since I’m there spending my daughter’s inheritance on breakfast, she’ll have to work there some day to pay her own tuition, and she can honk and wave at me, on her way to work, as she drives past my retirement home (or, as the “great unwashed” would call it: a refrigerator box under a bridge).
    College costs are insane. Has “60 Minutes” or anyone done an expose on it? When something has a higher rate of inflation than medical care, I’d say something rotten is going on. Building more expensive stadiums perhaps? I don’t know. It seems terribly, criminally wrong somehow.
    I have an English degree which I have put to great use in factory or retail jobs for the past 37 years. But I can swear creatively, so it was worth it.

    1. I can always tell — and appreciate — someone who curses with a command of te English language. Definitely worth the investment. In all seriousness though, I do think it needs looking into. Where’s Geraldo when you need him?

  16. I don’t know… most of the places I’ve applied for require degrees… so it really depends on what they want to do because either they need a degree or experience… and they can always go to the military where they can get the GIBill no worry about paying for college… I used it to get my degree and still haven’t been able to find a job yet… interview wednesday so fingers crossed… but while my husband was in he got valuable experience because he was a mechanic and when he got out he started going to college which was overly simple for him because he already knew the job so well and he got through 2 semesters before he got offered his dream job… and so yeah he says he’ll eventually get his degree… but it prolly wouldn’t matter either way because he has the job he wants and he rocks at it… while me my experience in the military was mechanics too which I sucked at and don’t want to do so not as much experience for someone wanting to be a librarian…

    the cost is ridiculous though… but it really paid off for me… I got an English degree… can’t you see my wonderful grammatical skills? But it actually did improve my writing like tenfold… I thought I was a good writer before but it expanded my skills and talents… and of course reading several different types of works you get exposed to a lot you might not would’ve on your own… so I say there’s a lot of benefit to college as long as they’re going into something that matters to them and they want to excel at…

  17. All excellent points, RG. I think ultimately it comes down to your goals, your drive and opportunities. My concern is just the escalating costs for an education, and whether those costs are dropping in value compared to the benefits.

      1. You’re very welcome. We’ve got one through university & putting two others through at the moment. Even helping just with living costs of uni is like running two households & it doesn’t include paying for actual uni fees! I despair for all these kids with debts even before they start their lives. It’s like a global version of the ‘Company Store’ – start off in debt then can’t get out of debt. Until a few years ago, it was free to go to university here. I don’t understand how a seemingly rich country that could afford free education, suddenly can’t. I feel your frustration and pain. End of rant hahaha

  18. I have a degree in journalism, Ned – and I’m a hack blogger/writer who has made more money as a bellman than I probably ever would have made in my once-chosen field.
    As for you kids, you’ll come through for them, you always do.

    1. Robert, the only thing “hack” about you is when you get that mucusy cough. And without question it’s your sarcastic warmth toward people that has led to your success as a bellman, my friend.

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