A college degree has become a necessity for young people entering the workforce, but rising tuition costs and the uncertainty surrounding interest rates for student loans has made affording that degree more expensive than ever before. Kids paying their way through college used to be a rite of passage, the first time that a young adult could truly make their own way in the world and pave their path towards independence. Parents would surprise their kids with infusions of cash every now and again, alongside care packages that kept them clothed and fed. But is it even possible for students to pay their way these days?
In a new survey administered by Public Agenda, the effect of making kids pay for college could be extraordinarily negative. They surveyed several hundred students, both college dropouts and recent graduates. Their findings were significant. 63% of students polled who successfully earned their degree did so with some amount of financial assistance from their family. A mere 42% of successful college graduates managed to get through without any sort of help. Is that gap due solely to financial issues?
Financial aid officers polled suggested that money alone may not make up for the discrepancy. According to their experience, many of the kids who found themselves cut off financially from their families were not performing, and may have even been failing out of school at the time. Kids regularly communicate this to their financial aid support, especially if they went into a semester in good shape and then find themselves needing loans or grants midway through the year. But the flipside of that coin may be the steps students are forced to take to afford college. Many more kids work to pay their way through school these days, and their grades often suffer. If students are forced to take jobs, not just to afford their social life but to pay for rent, gas and utilities, chances are they won’t have enough time to get the sort of grades they would otherwise. Many of these kids end up needing to drop classes or skip semesters because their schedules are simply too packed for them to succeed.
The issue may come down to the fact that college was different when most current students’ parents were in school. The price of tuition has far outpaced the increase in financial aid opportunities and average wage increases over the last two decades. And in many states there are less grant and loan opportunities available than there were in the past, even as tuition costs rise each and every year. Add that to the fact that a high unemployment rate means there is more competition for the even the lowest-level jobs, and you’ve got what may be the most difficult situation in the last fifty or sixty years.
In addition, the rates set by scholarship institutions or financial aid programs are predicated on the supposition that parents are helping their children with repayment. On average, states and universities do not consider a student to be ‘independent’ until they are 24-years-old, get married, have children or join the armed forces. Any students who don’t fall into this range are required to report their parents’ income when applying for financial aid. So if a student’s parents do well financially that will reflect in the amount of financial aid and the interest rates a student will receive, regardless of whether the parents are actually contributing anything. There is no ready answer, outside of students with financial issues attempting to earn money for college through volunteer opportunities. Military degrees paid for by the armed forces or money earned through government work will continue to gain importance, especially as parents feel the pinch and contribute less and less financially to their children’s education.