How can parents determine whether a particular college or university will be a sound investment in their child’s future?
While considering ranking, prestige, location, programs, and other key factors, we always look also at two key statistics, available in The Fiske Guide To Colleges or from the colleges themselves: What percentage of freshmen return for the sophomore year? What percentage of students graduate in four years? These statistics tell you to what degree that college works to keep students supported and advised, how efficiently students can acquire all of the courses needed for their majors, and how much of demonstrated financial need a college meets for students applying for aid.
Another important statistic parents need to investigate is the percentage of graduating seniors who enter the job market directly upon graduation, as well as the availability and quality of internships during the undergraduate years.
Parents seeking financial aid need to absolutely limit the total, four-year, accumulation of student debt to no more that $30,000, which is the national average ($29,400 as of December 2013). Of the 20 million US students currently in college, 60% are borrowing money, and there are now 37 million borrowers with outstanding loan. With 5 million unemployed under-25 year olds, the consequences of loan defaulting must be clearly understood. Student loan defaults are the only kind of debt not ameliorated in a bankruptcy. (Students who borrow heavily to do online degrees are at greatest risk with their high drop out rate.)
College majors in STEM, computer sciences, business and other job oriented fields face a much friendlier entry to the world of work than students with majors in dance, anthropology, and fine art. A savvy student will major in a market-friendly discipline while selecting a minor or additional coursework in areas of personal interest.
If funding available for college is extremely tight, students should consider doing the first two years at the local community college, and then transferring for the final two years and thereby saving up to 50% on costs. Starting at community college is also a good route for students with weak high school records, giving them a chance to prove themselves prior to a big investment of family capital.
Sarah C. Reese
Informed Educational Solutions