My husband and I both attended 4-year colleges, myself a private institution (Canisius College), he a public one (University of Colorado). We graduated into a relatively good job market and were able to start working immediately after graduation, both at Kodak, where we met at employee orientation. I commuted to school which helped my parents afford the higher cost of a private school. My husband and I were both lucky to graduate debt free, due to our parent’s generosity, some small scholarships and jobs we held to help pay our costs. That was in the 80’s.
In the 90s, my husband and I were both working at fairly well paying jobs. We started a family and started contributing to 529 plans for both our children with the expectation that we would help them, at least partially, with their college costs. We assumed our children would follow in our footsteps and attend college.
Fast forward to today. My husband has not worked in the last 7 years and after being unemployed for most of 2009, I was able to start a new job last year that paid significantly less than what I had been making. We are no longer in a position to contribute significantly to secondary education for both of our children. To make matters worse, the cost of college, especially private ones, have gone up significantly compared to the increase in people’s salaries.
I’ve been seeing more and more articles online, in newspapers and magazines questioning the value of a college education. The first one I read, which grabbed my attention, was published last year in More magazine: Is College Worth Your Cash?. Claudia Dreifus has written a book on the subject and specifically challenges the value of highly rated, expensive institutions like Harvard. You can also check out her website dedicated to the topic: Higher Education? The article, Is college worth the money? on MSN Money proposes that the value gained from a 4 year degree does not dramatically outweigh the benefits of debts incurred.
We are now of the belief that if our children want to go to college, we will push them to start at the local community college. Our 15 year old, who is 2 years away from graduating high school, is still undecided on his path in life. Attending a community college would be beneficial to him for many reasons:
- This will give him some time to figure out what he wants to major in.
- He will have extra time to figure out if he wants to pursue a 4 year degree.
- The credit hour cost for community colleges is much less than 4 year schools. Many 4 year schools will transfer your credits. If he does decide to transfer to another institution, then the money he saved by going to the 2 year college could give him more options for his second 2 years.
- If he chooses not to continue he can still graduate with a two year degree.
We’d be doing our kids a disservice if we spent our money on a 4 year college. We’d also be doing them a disservice if we let them graduate with large student debts that take years to pay off. There’s true value in starting your adult life modestly.