The ratcheting of education

Friday, July 22, 2011
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If you've ever wondered how you'll manage to send your kids to college, you're not alone. In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center this year, only 22 percent of participants said they think most people can pay for college; that number is down from 39 percent in 1985.

The assumption is not without reason. On average, college tuition tends to increase about 8 percent every year, according to college funding resource www.finaid.org, meaning that our children and grandchildren will pay significantly more than we did for our own college education.

"Our actual costs have been reduced, but student tuition has gone up because appropriations from the state have gone down," says Dennis Holt, vice president of enrollment management and student success and the dean of students at Southeast Missouri State University. The school's tuition will go up 4.8 percent for the 2011-2012 school year. Cost cutting measures are already in place, says Holt, but the fundamental challenge the school faces is to "do more with less" without lowering the quality of education there.

Debbie Below, assistant vice president for enrollment management and the director of admissions at Southeast, says the school's tuition did not go up for the 2010-2011 school year, and admission requirements have remained the same since the early 1990s. She believes that access to education has greatly improved in recent years, thanks to more grants and loans, and the growth of regional universities.

"You see more off-site campuses popping up, and more collaboration efforts today than before," says Below. "We're taking education where the people are, not just expecting them to travel to wherever it's offered."

That's good news for many, as Below and Holt agree that college is more important than ever -- and that, yes, you can afford to pay for college.

"It's not a question of 'Can you afford to go to college,'" says Below. "You can't afford not to go." Depending on a person's career goals, that education could mean a couple years of training, a four-year degree or an MBA -- but the fact is that some type of higher education is necessary in our ever-evolving world of technology, say Below and Holt.

"A high school diploma is a wonderful thing, but to be able to elevate and market yourself in today's economy, you need some kind of postsecondary training," says Rich Payne, director of the Career and Technology Center in Cape Girardeau. "I think people need to their put career goals in front of them first, and their career goals will lead them to whatever level of educational attainment they need."

On top of that, many graduates must prepare themselves for additional job training, certifications or further education down the line.

"Most individuals coming out of high school now, throughout their work life, will change careers three to six times," says Payne. "Once again, we live in a very evolving world right now, and technology continues to evolve in the workplace. A person has to be adaptable and continue to learn, or technology will pass them by."

To prepare for the cost of college or career training, Payne says the best thing parents can do is start saving for their children.

"Parents need to prepare themselves far in advance for the cost, providing an avenue early and often in the child's life to have money set aside for that education. With most parents ... any dime is a dime you need when you're young and married and have children," says Payne, who has two daughters in college. At the same time, he says, putting aside only $25 or $50 a month for 18 years will add a significant amount to a child's college fund. "Parents, especially young parents, need to consider that early on to make it available," says Payne.

Below says every family should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Too many don't apply because they assume there's no money available, or that they won't qualify -- but most will receive something.

"The important thing to do is encourage students to take challenging academic courses," adds Holt. Good grades and a high GPA usually qualify students for more scholarships; this will also help students prepare for success in college and, eventually, their career. Strive for good grades in tough courses, and make that the expectation at home, says Holt.

"Instead of the fear that you can't afford college, or you won't meet the requirements -- feel the pressure that you can't afford not to go," says Below.

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