Parenting. You are in the Red Zone, ready to grab the goal line. Instead, you grab the bill. Then you grab at your chest.
If your kids sneer at you less frequently, if they suddenly find the sound of your breathing almost tolerable, then they are nearing the age when you can ship them out. Good provider that you are, you think, College.
What a deal! Higher education and a first class seat on the Middle Class Express for them; more closet space and vacations on white sand beaches for you. Sure, family outings with a tent, cold showers, a dog, and burned pancakes are precious memories, but why not think hammocks and rum drinks with umbrellas?
You dutifully take a few campus tours schlepping after a student guide who describes libraries and residence halls, all while walking backward.
Parenting. You are in the Red Zone, ready to grab the goal line.
Instead, you grab the bill.
Then you grab at your chest.
What clown typed a telephone number onto the bottom line?
The sticker shock for room, board, tuition, fees, and books will knock most families flat. Many private schools are hovering around an eye-popping $50,000 per year—that’s $200,000 for a bachelor’s degree. Even if you started saving for Junior’s education at birth with one of those nifty tax-advantage college savings plans, even with earnings for 17 years you’d have needed to salt away ten thousand post-tax dollars annually. Remember your first job? You only made $25,000. How the heck were you supposed to live?
And if you God forbid have more than one kid, forget it. Just forget it.
The only route open to most of us is to borrow; everyone takes that route. Colleges throw aid packages faster than aged hippies spin Frisbees.
But is education an investment that will promote future earnings, or is it a consumer luxury?
Early this year, the total of all student debt rose above the total for all credit card debt. But unlike credit card debt, student debt falls mostly on the shoulders of youth. Our kids are being educated, all right, but for the decade following graduation, our kids will be on the hook. New car loans, mortgages, or even approval for a simple credit card may be a stretch. School was supposed to make life better for the kids; not hand them over to shylocks.
Though favorable repayment schedules can stretch as long as 25 years, that means that today’s 21-year-old college graduate can look forward to paying for college at 46—just about when his own kids are applying for their own loans.
How Did This Happen?
For two decades, college costs rose faster than medical costs. There are plenty of reasons for this, not the least of which is that financial aid packages are mostly debt guaranteed by quasi-governmental agencies. You fill out the forms and cosign; the paper is issued by schools and banks; the schools reap the dough; the Fed guarantees the loan; your kid pays and pays and pays.
Any resemblance to the recent mortgage bust is not coincidental. Pump risk-free money into any system, and prices will skyrocket. With credit cheap, plentiful, and risk-free, there are no incentives for higher education to hold the line on costs.
And it is risk-free from the lenders’ perspectives. Unlike mere real estate mortgages, bankruptcy and default are not options student loans. Like criminal fines, the only two ways out of a student loan are repayment or death.
So the schools spray notes like frightened squid spray ink. Why not attract new customers with gyms that shame a health-spa, dorms that shame the Ritz-Carlton, grounds that embarrass Versailles. Come on now, who do you think pays for that stuff?
Your kid does. Prestige U will own his ass.