College Costs Too High? Good!

College costs are too high; that’s good. Why? It forces parents to be realistic about college choices; that’s better. And students will learn some real life-lessons as a result of making hard choices; that’s best.

There may be more heart-break about where kids are going to college. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room that’s making a lot of noise, but parents would like to ignore: the growing cost of college.

When I start working with a client, here’s the first question I ask: “What is the absolute limit you will spend on your child’s college education?”  I force people to focus on money from the get-go. Otherwise, I hear insane statements like, “I want my daughter to enjoy the same college experience I had.”

Yeah, I’d like to own a Rolls Royce, but I can’t afford it.  Parents are still stuck in the tortured idealism of paying for college “somehow,” even though they haven’t saved a dime for college.

Here’s my standard anecdote on how students are being misled.

“Sweetheart, work hard and do all the things your guidance counselor tells you and you can go to any college.”

Does this read familiar? It’s garbage, and parents are feeding it to their kids everyday and deluding themselves at the same time.

To the point:  Our students are not getting the right impressions about college, let alone having a discussion about college, which is usually done on the fly; however, that engagement is changing. Recently, I spent an hour on a Skype call with a family in California, and the one word the student continued to use was “prestige.”

Where did that word “prestige”come from? From her parents, her teachers, her classmates, and worst of all, from people in my industry who should know better.
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It’s like a well-meaning but unintended conspiracy against the student who shouldn’t be hearing this nonsense. And I proceeded to tell the student in front of her Ivy League-grad parents that prestige won’t buy you a can of Pepsi in this day and culture.

When I explained why the Ivys no longer have the “prestige” any more, the parents were actually relieved. Before the call was done, the student thought it just made more sense to go to the local state university and not to Stanford where she would come out with $100,000 of debt. The difference in debt for this student was going to be $16,000 versus $100,000.  This is a REAL choice.

Parents, classmates and high school officials are totally misinforming these kids who are put under stress to succeed and excel, much of which – ready for this? –  is to make the high schools look good and for many parents to validate themselves through their children. It’s unconscionable, but some people’s priorities adversely affect these students.  When they don’t get into their so-called “prestige” schools, the disappointment can be humiliating and demoralizing.

The hard-working students deserve real information that makes sense so that debt is not on their horizon.  The politicians in DC can’t seem to handle debt, but you can. And it begins by making common-sense choices where the word “prestige” will be heard as a dirty word (I “get it” that there’s an exception to every rule, but the realities of our economy don’t allow for the luxury of embracing the exception).

If you want to do yourself and your child a huge favor, use these reality themes: Go to a school and educate yourself; no one is going to educate you but you; no college makes you succeed – you make yourself succeed.  And you can provide your own themes, I’m sure.

Your student deserves better than the abbreviated motivational outbursts (“You can do it!”) from teachers and friends, and it begins with your being realistic with them right from the start. The end result is a Charlie Sheen moment: “Duh! Winning!” (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!)
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One Response to “College Costs Too High? Good!”

  1. Suzanne Shaffer (@SuzanneShaffer) Says:

    What an absolute breath of fresh air. These conversations may be hard for the parents, but in the long run, the student will thank you for being so honest 4 years down the road. It’s time to get realistic about college choices vs. college debt. It’s time for parents to take the lead and have that uncomfortable talk with their students.

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