A New York Times story published in Monday’s LNP reported that “creditors are taking increasingly tough actions to chase people who fall behind on student loans.” In some states, those measures include suspending the professional licenses of those who have fallen behind on loan payments. South Dakota withholds fishing, hunting and driver’s licenses from those who are behind in repaying their debts to state universities.
Depriving a college graduate of his livelihood doesn't seem the best way to get him to pay his college debts. Consider it a cautionary tale, though, for the high school seniors who, right now, are choosing the college they want to attend next year.
Amid the angst and excitement of the college selection process, it can be difficult to envision life after college graduation.
All the attention is on finishing high school and imagining where the student is going to be next fall, what life in college is going to look like, which college seems the best fit.
Whether you’re the senior choosing where to spend the next four (hopefully four and no more) years, or the parent of that senior, we’d urge you to consider a few tough questions.
— Is the path being considered going to end in employment?
— Is the debt that will be incurred manageable in the years after college graduation?
As LNP reported in September, the average student at a Pennsylvania college in 2016 graduated with $35,759 in debt, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.
Pennsylvania ranked in second place for the state with the most student debt, behind only New Hampshire.
Earlier this year, the Princeton Review released the results of its “College Hopes and Worries Survey” of 2017.
Seventy-six percent of respondents reported high stress levels — which was 20 percent higher than in 2003, when the survey first was conducted.
Please hold the “snowflake” insults. Parents were surveyed as well as college applicants.
Eighty-five percent of those surveyed estimated that a college degree would cost more than $50,000; of those, more than 43 percent put the figure at more than $100,000.
A plurality — 38 percent — said their main concern was the level of debt they’d be taking on.
In 2006, the plurality of those surveyed said their greatest concern was that they wouldn’t get into their first-choice college.
The Chicago Tribune said the shift suggests that students are focusing more on practical matters. And indeed, 42 percent said the biggest benefit of a degree was a “potentially better job and income,” while only 33 percent said it was “exposure to new ideas.”
But the numbers also suggest that a significant number of parents and students may not be grappling with the practicalities.
Why is this the business of anyone other than those students and parents?
For one thing, unemployed or underemployed college graduates up to their eyeballs in debt aren’t going to contribute much to the economy. Their burdens may at some point become our burdens.
For another, college costs will keep rising as long as there are students willing to keep paying them.
The reality is that even state universities in Pennsylvania have become a pricey proposition.
In July, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education unanimously approved a 3.5 percent tuition hike for the 2017-18 academic year across the state system, of which Millersville University is one of 14 members. With the increase, Millersville’s in-state tuition reached $9,270 a year — $11,858, including fees; with room and board, the cost rose to $25,528.
In a meeting Monday with Republican state Sen. Ryan Aument and the LNP Editorial Board, state Sen. Scott Martin noted that there are “shining stars” in the state system, including Millersville.
But enrollment is declining at the state universities because they are no longer the bargain they once were. And the problems at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, in particular, are alarming; that school’s four-year graduation rate is in the low double digits.
Meanwhile, Martin said, it’s been a struggle to find the resources to expand Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology — whose graduates consistently find well-paying jobs after graduation.
“We need to have a broader conversation about higher education,” he said.
He’s right, of course.
Hopefully, that conversation will be aimed at expanding opportunities for young people to get the postsecondary education that’s right for them. Such education remains the ticket to higher lifelong earnings.
In the meantime, our advice to seniors now choosing their postsecondary paths: Look at each college’s four-year graduation and job placement rates. Be realistic about how much debt you can handle, in light of the career you’re likely to choose.
Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to get loans and grants.
A private college that offers merit aid may end up being a better deal than a state or state-related school.
Consider completing your general education classes at HACC, and then transferring later to a four-year college. HACC has dual admission agreements with Elizabethtown College and Millersville University and transfer agreements with a long list of other institutions.
As LNP has reported, HACC students now may get a liberal studies bachelor's degree at Temple University Harrisburg. And Thaddeus Stevens graduates can put their credits toward a Bachelor of Science in leadership and organizational management at Eastern Mennonite University.
If your chosen profession requires that you get a graduate degree, factor in the costs of that degree.
For many families, gone are the days when a college can be chosen simply because it feels right. Now the numbers have to work, too.