A Very Belated Update!

It has been over a year since I last posted. That year has been filled with frustration, anger, grief and eventually acceptance. Nothing turned out as we expected and dreams had to be re-imagined.

When I last posted, we were waiting to hear from the schools to which the girls had applied. That was only the first step as we then needed to know the financial aid offered before making decisions. The high point of the season was that the girls were accepted to virtually every one of the schools they had selected. But as the financial aid packages began to arrive, things took a downturn. Their top choices offered little or no financial aid, leaving them with the prospect of taking out large loans or looking elsewhere.

Mimi’s first choice was the University of British Columbia. Although she was accepted, she was not selected for one of the 20 international scholarships. Her financial option, if she wanted to attend UBC, was to take out over $20,000 in loans yearly. She instead accepted a spot at the University of California Davis. The combination of grants and scholarships there left her with a minimal $5,000 in loans per year, a figure she was comfortable with. Although it was not her first choice school, she fell in love with the campus once she moved in and she feels that she is in the best place she could be.

Cai’s first choice of schools was Cal State Monterey Bay. Their cost of attendance is among the lowest in the state and her yearly loans are about the same as Mimi’s. She’s been very happy but is thinking of transferring to a UC her Junior year because they have stronger programs in her major. We’ll be visiting schools this summer to narrow down her search.

Grace was caught in a Catch 22 situation because she applied mainly to private schools. Like her sisters, she was accepted to most of them but they offered little financial aid. Her counselor pressed her to consider Regis University in Denver and she initially accepted, despite the fact that her loans would be nearly $20,000 a year. But at the eleventh hour, she balked at both the school and the loans. Instead, she enrolled at our local community college. Instead of loans, federal and state grants have paid for everything and she receives the balance in cash each quarter. She’s effectively being paid to go to school. It has its downside, of course. The community college is a commuter school, so she is missing out on the college life her sisters are having and that does chafe. It’s a lot like continuing high school instead of the spreading-her-wings experience she had been looking forward to. But she’s debt free and getting great grades, priming her for a successful junior transfer to colleges she might not have been accepted to as a high school senior. We’re looking at potential schools in a different way this time around, armed with experience we didn’t have last year. A year from now, she’ll be getting ready to finally fly off to her own and she’ll be doing it without two years of student loans trailing behind her.

What did we learn?

  1. College counselors are trying to get kids into college. They are not motivated by the cost to the student and their family. So it’s up to parents to make it clear that cost will be the priority in the decision and that the counselor needs to factor that into their recommendations.
  2. State schools are still the best bargain in college searches. While California’s state schools are impacted, causing most students to graduate in 5-6 years, the total cost can still be significantly less than other choices. Research schools carefully, some are more impacted than others.
  3. FAFSA is our best friend. Need-based scholarships are allocated according to their recommendations and the federal and state grants can be significant.
  4. If your student is ambitious and willing to work hard (the dropout rate is high), community college is a fantastic financial deal. But counseling and help in transfer planning – at least in California – is poor and you have to do your own legwork. And it’s glorified high school, not the fun dorm life of a four year school. Still, if your student gets good grades, they will have a chance to transfer into some of the best public and private schools – schools they may not have qualified for straight out of high school.
  5. College is about academics but, even more importantly, it’s also there to teach you about the world and life skills. The growth in our girls in their first year of college has been amazing. The stumbling blocks and disappointments have contributed much more to their maturing than opportunities to cut loose away from home.

“Adapt or die” is a saying that holds true here. Our daughters have adapted to the disappointments in their college process and lives, and grown into stronger, independent women for it. They’ve learned that the choices they’ve each made have been the right ones for them and that nothing is set in stone. Mimi is delighted with her school and has no desire to change. Cai may transfer to another school or she may not. Grace has another year of community college ahead of her, but she is already embarking on the journey of application for transfer to where she’s meant to go.

Was this a successful blog? Were we successful in our plan to send three girls off to college debt free? I’ll leave the first to your own conclusion. Our daughters will not be debt free upon graduation but they will carry reasonably small loans with minimal payments. Could they have gone to college at no cost? Yes, there are schools that offer free tuition and any one of the three could have qualified for them. But ultimately it was their choice and they did not want to go to those institutions.

They are at peace with their decisions and so are we. At least until early next year when we have to start all over with the boys!

Thank you for being with me in this journey and I hope that your own students will have equally wonderful, stressful, happy, sad and growing experiences in college.



The Bright Side of Higher College Tuition Argument

In the opinion section on US World News, Ben Ho and Sita Slavov wrote “The Bright Side of Higher College Tuition,” a piece in which they argue that higher college costs are not a bad thing for most students. They postulate that higher tuition is only a “sticker price,” paid only by wealthy students and that most middle or low income students pay a reduced, more affordable price. They further state that

Policies aimed at controlling increases in tuition will hamper the ability of schools to price discriminate, harming lower-income students by reducing their access to college.

Their reasoning is that by having a higher “sticker price” for the wealthy, more money will be available for financially needy applicants. You can read the article here.

I would like to comment on this with the same gravitas that a Vassar and Columbia economics professor and an American Enterprise Scholar bring to their article, but I’m just a mom. I don’t have graphs and tables and economic models to back my position. Only the real-life effect that high college costs is having on my family. And a whole lot of reading over the last year.

Theoretically, wealthy students should pay more for their college education but we’ve already seen that they actually receive a higher percentage of financial aid than poorer students as a tactic by colleges to lure future donors. Would those wealthy students donate less after graduation if they had to pay full tuition? I suspect not, but everyone loves a bargain and perhaps a financial aid package given to convince a student to attend one school over another pays off in far greater long term gains.

I have a little game I play and I suspect most people do too. The If I Won the Lottery game. If I won the lottery, I would donate generously to the elementary and high schools my children attended because they were generous to us in our time of need. I encourage my children to someday give back to their community and the institutions that help them achieve financial security. But right now, I wish colleges had their priorities straight and directed their financial aid towards those of greatest need.

That’s my view on the economic view of the college sticker price argument. What’s yours?

And on that note, I need to say that I am taking a much-needed break from the blog. The next month will be a time of decisions and dealing with a lot of the emotions associated with them. For now, my family needs my help and focus. I’ll come back to the blog when everything college-related is resolved.

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