The news is filled with stories and data of rising tuition on college campuses. I have written about this very fact a number of times here on the blog. The talking heads on every major news channel mention it at least once per day and each person you listen to may spout out a number of various reasons why college tuition is continually on the rise.
“Experts” are so divided on this issue because there is not a clear cut answer. There literally could be a million internal factors that influence the cost of a colleges’ tuition, as well as the external factors of our national and global economy.
In researching this phenomena and from working on a college campus, I have a hypothesis of why college tuition has risen so dramatically in the past decade: Lifestyle Inflation and Greedy College Students!
I believe that “lifestyle inflation” or the 21st century version of “keeping up with the Joneses” is to blame for driving college tuition prices to unprecedented heights. College students are simply no longer satisfied with musty dorm rooms, and uncomfortable classroom chairs. College students expect to have multiple Starbucks locations on their campus. They want manicured grass and climate controlled buildings. They want spotless restrooms, and state of the art laboratory facilities.
Today’s college students expect to have sports stadiums which rival (or far surpass) professional teams. They want to have a gym facility with an indoor climbing wall, olympic size swimming pool, Zumba classes, and enough ellipticals to entertain an entire sorority.
College students also expect to have a car on campus, they expect to have access to social activities at every hour of the day, they expect their professors to bend over backwards to accomodate them within their office hours, and they expect to have private showers.
None of these conveniences and amenities are cheap.
To attract new students, colleges are forced to cater to these demands. The sad thing is that you will likely never get a student to admit that they crave the above luxuries. Even though they may not voice this opinion, their voice is heard loud and clear through their actions. They choose to go to colleges and universities which offer these amenities. The better the amenities, the higher the enrollment.
A Vicious Cycle
Many colleges are driven by their enrollment. Their budget is directly determined by the number of students they admit each year, and they do not receive funding from the state or other external entities. Colleges who live and die by the number paying students they have on campus each semester must do whatever is takes to attract their quota of students. Attracting new students means building bigger and nicer facilities, and providng all of the amenities mentioned above.
When college students (and parents!) walk onto campus for their college tour, they expect to find these things. Unfortunately, many students base their college decision on the level of the amenities offered by the college and not on their academic prowess.
Here is the vicious cycle: Colleges must provide these high priced amenities to attract new students, these amenities and facilities cost a great deal of money, thus driving up tuition costs, parents and students complain about high tuition costs and demand that colleges find ways to lower their costs.
The standard of living on a college campus has expanded to a level that colleges simply cannot keep pace with. Their attempts to keep pace have resulted in the skyrocketing of tuition rates.
As college tuition prices are driven higher by the insatiable desire of students for high priced amenities, student loan debt also continues to skyrocket. This is the predicament that we find ourselves in today.
Let’s take a step towards halting the rise of both college tuition and student loan debt, by eating more ramien noodles and accepting a moldy dorm room as your right of passage!
Towards the end of 2012, President Obama introduced a new student loan repayment program called: Pay as You Earn. It was activated on December 21, 2012, for all eligible borrowers.
Here is the information on the repayment plan according to the Department of Education:
To qualify for Pay As You Earn, you must have a partial financial hardship. You have a partial financial hardship if the monthly amount you would be required to pay on your eligible federal student loans under a 10-year Standard Repayment Plan is higher than the monthly amount you would be required to repay under Pay As You Earn.
For this purpose, your eligible student loans include all of your William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program loans that are eligible for Pay As You Earn, as well as certain types of Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans. Although your FFEL Program loans cannot be repaid under Pay As You Earn, the following types of FFEL Program loans are counted in determining whether you have a partial financial hardship: Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans Federal PLUS Loans made to graduate or professional students Federal Consolidation Loans that did not repay any PLUS loans for parents
You also must be a new borrower as of Oct. 1, 2007, and must have received a disbursement of a Direct Loan on or after Oct. 1, 2011. You are a new borrower if you had no outstanding balance on a Direct Loan or FFEL Program loan as of Oct. 1, 2007, or had no outstanding balance on a Direct Loan or FFEL Program loan when you received a new loan on or after Oct. 1, 2007. Your payment amount may increase or decrease each year based on your income and family size. Once you’ve initially qualified for Pay As You Earn, you may continue to make payments under the plan even if you no longer have a partial financial hardship.
Under this plan your monthly payments will be capped at 10% of your discretionary income. What is discretionary income? As defined by ED: “Your income minus the poverty guidelines for your family size.”
Here is an example if you are a family of 4 and your income is $50,000 annually. You would take $50,000, subtract the poverty level for your family size, which is $23,550, and your remaining “discretionary income” is $26,450. $26,450 divided by 12 months is $2,204. So under the “Pay As You Earn” scenario your monthly loan payments would be capped at 10% of this discretionary income or $220 per month.
Another advantage of this plan is that if you make 20 years of consecutive on time monthly payments under this program, the remaining amount of your student loans will be forgiven.
20 years is a long time…
The Bottom Line
This new repayment program only scratches the surface of the real problem with student loans: high college costs and students having zero financial sense.
It does however, give some respite for families who are struggling under the burden of student loan repayment. It may not help you pay off your student loans any faster, but it may help ease your monthly budget. Especially if you have a large family size, as your discretionary income fluctuates based on the poverty guidelines for family size.
If you are wavering on whether to switch to this new repayment plan or not, you can use the handy calculator at the Department of Education’s website, and it will tell you if this new repayment plan will save you any money or not.
Do you think this is worth a try? Or this just another government bailout is disguise?
I will assume that we are all aware of the current student loan crisis. You might have heard the term “student loan bubble?” This term was created because, just like the housing bubble, student loans were given out in excess to students who had no means of paying these loans back. Now these students have graduated and are struggling to find a job in a sluggish economy. Students are behind on loan payments, and student loan lenders are buckling under a mountain of defaulted student loan debt. Just as the housing market did in 2008, the student loan bubble is on the verge of bursting.
Unfortunately, I do not think there is any way to stop this “bubble” from bursting. The damage is already done. Billions of dollars in student loans are now on the books, and unlike a mortgage, many of these student loans cannot even be discharged in bankruptcy. In fact, student loan debt just recently surpassed the total credit card debt in the United States and continues to rise to shockingly unsafe levels.
What have we gotten ourselves into?
A Way Out?
When the bubble bursts, and I don’t believe that event is too far into our future; students, legislators, lenders, and colleges and universities will all be clamoring for a solution to the problem.
The clearest solution I see to this problem is for colleges and universities to find an intersection of education and business.
In practice, I think that colleges and universities should be a hotbed for economic innovation. College students should be encouraged to develop their entrepreneurial mindsets while on campus. Corporations should be given access to students, and vice versa, so that both can learn from each other. After all, the point of a college degree is to get a job, right?
College career centers spend time and money trying to attract businesses to their doorsteps to hire college graduates, but what if these same corporations played an integral role in the fabric of the university.
I am not proposing that colleges and universities adopt a profit centered business model, but rather that students themselves adopt a business mindset.
The Business Mindset
A business, whether large or small, has to protect their bottom line. Any business owner understands that they have to meet certain profit margins to maintain a profit, and they need a certain gross income to meet their financial obligations. They cannot leverage themselves too thin, or they will not be able to pay their bills.
This same principle can be applied to students who are borrowing way more money than they need to fulfill their college goals. They are essentially leveraging themselves too thin, with no hope of being able to repay their bills.
College students with a solid understanding of business principles could easily relate their personal financial situation to that of a business. They will quickly see that they need to view their education and their student loans as an investment. If they treated themselves as a startup company, would they be able to secure funding to complete their education?
This simple shift in perspective could open up the eyes of many college students. I love NBC’s show “Shark Tank”. The “sharks” are brutally honest with the entrepreneurs who come on the show because they know what it takes to succeed in business. They understand what constitutes a good and profitable investment. College students need to have the same view of their education and their future career goals.
The question is: “How can you as a college student ensure that your education is a solid investment?”
This question should drive your education, and be the basis for the decisions you make in your career. After all, you likely have a mountain of student loan debt following you that is more than happy to bury you if you stumble.
When the dreaded “Sequester” deadline was passed on March 1st, we all thought the financial world might implode. Many politicians painted a dreary picture for the future state of our economy, and government frustration was at an all time high. Then the fallout of the sequester began to take shape.
One of the worst impacts of the sequester was the elimination of the Tuition Assistant (TA) Program for the United States Military. Separate from the G.I. Bill, the TA program provided up to $4,500 per year for active duty soldiers to take classes. Over 870,000 courses were taken last year by soldiers in this very popular program.
Needless to say the outcry was quick, and powerful.
The military was in a fury over this, and the general public was also rightly outraged. How are we showing support to our military if we cut the funding necessary for them to further their education?
Where Do We Go From Here?
Not even 3 full weeks later, and Sen. Kay Hagan from North Carolina passed a continuing resolution through the Senate that reinstated the Tuition Assistant program for active duty military under the Department of Defense.
So the program is back on, and soldiers can continue taking their courses.
What can we learn from all of this?
- It’s best to have a back up plan!
- Diversification is key
- Financial Aid can be fickle
For the majority of college students around the country Graduation just happened. At the school I work at, we just released 2600 newly minted students to the world to seek their fortunes. This is a scary time for most graduates. Entering the work force in the current economic climate is daunting, and they are faced with odds that are already stacked against them. And unfortunately, not a single one of those college classes taught them how to get out of debt.
Fortunately, there are specific steps that new college graduates can take to avoid falling into the consumer debt trap that so many of their fellow students find themselves in.
Continue your college lifestyle for as long as possible!
There is no shame in this, and the stigma of living on ramien noodles and single ply toilet paper is rapidly receding. In fact, I would say that adults who are long removed from their college years are increasingly moving back towards their “college spending” days to save money and avoid falling further into debt.
In college, you don’t need “stuff” because you have friends and real human relationships to occupy your time as opposed to china patterns and big screen tv’s. By avoiding the trap of lifestyle inflation as soon as you get a job, you will be able to establish a firm foundation, start paying off your student loans, establish an emergency fund, and even set aside money for your future (spouse, marriage, kids, house, new car, travel). Setting a plan, and understanding the downside of falling into lifestyle inflation will help you avoid these common mistakes.
Make a Savings/Spending Plan
One of the best pieces of financial advice my parents ever gave me was to set a strict budget and keep to it. Having a firm grasp of your budget and income needs will tell you very quickly the lifestyle you can expect to have.
In fact, if you have a Stafford Student Loan, you will be required to complete exit loan counseling when you graduate, and you will have the opportunity to create your first sample budget in that counseling session.
Understanding that a high income is got a right granted upon graduation will help you face reality, and plan accordingly. Sticking to your savings and spending plan, will help you keep that vision in check.