I'm amused by all the fuss, frustration and foolish angst many parents and students endure as they travel across the country to various colleges and universities in search of the perfect match. In my educated opinion, most 18-year-old high school graduates don't have a clue what they want to study, so why waste time and money seeking Big Name or Ivy League schools that eagerly take your fortune but don't provide the stately claims offered in their glossy brochures?
My friend Nancy and I recently attended an elegant cocktail party and it seemed that every parent was discussing the college dilemma and how they were supporting their precious offspring, both financially and emotionally. The host sauntered over to us and began to announce that he had been paying more than $100,000 a year for his daughter to attend a prestigious college "back east."
"What is her major?" I asked.
"Well, she's not sure but she's considering working for a non-profit organization." He seemed smug in his answer.
Nancy choked on her martini.
"You're going to spend almost half a million dollars for her to work in non-profit?" she asked. "That's a noble profession but I think she could obtain a less expensive education."
I gave her a quick look that implied she should go light on the alcohol.
The host seemed offended by her question and replied with a certain all-knowing attitude. "Well, Idaho just doesn't offer the educational experience she needed."
Nancy wouldn't let it go. I stepped aside and prepared to enjoy what was coming next.
"My two children attended the University of Idaho, graduated debt-free within four years with degrees in business, and now they're in their late twenties and make more than six figures a year."
The host stood speechless and then frantically glanced across the room to find a way to escape from our common sense conversation. He spotted a more sympathetic victim and walked away.
Nancy and I exchanged glances and laughed. We'd known each other for decades, ever since we met in Girls State in 1968. She was the confident student leader from a huge Boise high school and I was the goofball from the village of Wendell. We met again at the University of Idaho in 1969 and have remained close friends. After majoring in journalism, we entered the workforce debt-free and enjoyed successful careers in Idaho. We remain loyal alumni and appreciate the skills learned and relationships forged at our in-state university.
Most states have excellent universities and trade schools that offer less expensive choices, especially for the first two years when students take required core classes. Parents who own property are paying the taxes to support those schools, so why pay out-of-state tuition somewhere else? Often, the state universities have excellent job placement records, and isn't that the reason students attend?
According to financial advice on CNN Money, the tuition, room and board at Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts is approximately $64,492, not counting grants and scholarships. By comparison, the tuition, room and board at the University of Idaho is $19,241, excluding grants or scholarships. The annual in-state tuition is $6,784 and out-of-state tuition is $20,314. In-state tuition at the small community college in Twin Falls, Idaho is only $3,880. Most of the students have outside jobs and places to live, so room and board isn't always a factor. Here's a fact to personalize the issue: my brother graduated from Harvard University and I graduated from the University of Idaho. I enjoyed a more successful career and a happier life.
I've been the commencement speaker at both the University of Idaho and the College of Southern Idaho. I urged the students not to get or increase their student loans, but I could tell by the groans from the audience that my advice came too late. The student loan debt is becoming a national financial disaster. According to MarketWatch, the $1.2 trillion in student loan debt may be preventing Americans from making the kinds of big purchases that drive economic growth, like house and cars, and reaching other milestones, such as having the ability to save for retirement or move out of mom and dad's basement.
I know a woman who owes more than $100,000 in student loans and is working on a Masters Degree in Fine Arts. She's never worked a full-time job and her biggest return on investment will be more debt as she struggles for the rest of her life to make the monthly payments on her loans. The government is a benevolent giver of taxpayer money but demands repayment, with interest. I believe the student loan program is a calculated way to make young people indebted to the government. Students would do better to take a year off from school and work full-time to save money for college tuition. That doesn't mean they are entitled to a "gap year" to go find themselves as someone else pays their way.
To earn and save money during college, I lived with my parents and worked during the summer and on Christmas and Spring Breaks. I was the first female in my family to graduate from college and did so at age 21. Two weeks after graduation I was working full-time in an exciting career, grateful for the opportunity to do what I loved: write, promote and pay the bills. My college experience gave me freedom and opportunities that changed my life as I focused on one main goal: work at a rewarding job, support myself and use my talents to live the best life possible. Go, Idaho.