It's obvious the cost to attend college these days is out of hand. Sure – the investment in higher education is a good one, but at what cost? Most students today are graduating with tons of loan debt that has a crippling affect on their long-term financial future. Something must be done.
The other day I was reading The Debt-free College Degree by Melba Newsome – a fascinating article that focuses on the efforts of Davidson College (North Carolina) to eliminate loans from their financial packages to students. It's really become a model for other institutions looking for out-of-the-box solutions to the student loan mess.
But is free college really a viable option?
Consider this: many colleges and universities today are sitting on large endowment funds that could be applied to student financial packages. Financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz stated, “…Harvard could afford to make tuition free..” In fact, Harvard's endowment alone topped $31.7 billion in 2011. Yes, almost 32 billion.
It's of note that not all of this money can be made liquid overnight. And, Davidson College too had to make an enormous effort in raising cash for their endowments to make the move away from loans to grants. But it is definitely a step in the right direction.
I've been thinking a lot about this – and I have a few humble ideas of my own to throw in the mix. Take 'em or leave 'em – I'd rather be a part of helping to solve this growing problem than continue to heap fuel in the fire.
So, here's my solutions to help eliminate student loan debt or defray the costs.
- More Co-ops. I first learned about Kettering University about 6 years ago while working for an employer who helped sponsor its co-op program. Now, here's a great idea that truly needs to be explored more by other colleges/universities. A company/or organization sponsors or even pays a student to work directly with them while they are attending the school. Often times what they pay the student can help defray the costs of their schooling. I know many do it – but why aren't more companies involved in schools like this? Plus – on-the-job training is much better than what the student will get in the books! To me – this is a win-win situation. The employer wins by molding a future employee and the student wins by getting some (or all) of their tuition paid for and gets equipped for a career.
- Move Learning Online. Loads of universities are now offering their programs and classes for free online. In this digital age, you don't need to meet in a brick and mortar building anymore. This is (I believe) the biggest threat to traditional higher learning today- the Internet. Much of the costs of attending school could be eliminated if students were to learn online. There would be no large overhead of maintaining buildings and grounds. I realize social life is a big part of the college experience – but it also tends to be a big distraction. Maybe students could graduate sooner than 4 years – through self-paced online learning? It is certainly worth investigating for anyone that has yet to enroll in college. It is fairly simple to attend classes online and earn the same degree that can be obtained at a brick and mortar institution. Most colleges now offer full degrees that are attainable online and have an easy to understand admissions process.
- More Incentives for Giving. While I might be crossing the political lines here – I believe there is something to the idea of giving incentives to those who give generously. I say – create more tax breaks to those who give to colleges/universities. We ought to be encouraging gifts by lone individuals and companies to offset government funding of state schools.
- Sponsorships. My last idea – however slightly more far-out – is for schools to make a “sponsorship-type” page on their websites of their students. Each student would have a “page” that is visible to the community in which you could learn about what they are studying and their goals. A person could then elect to “sponsor” a student and their time in school by giving a one-time /or monthly gift. Perhaps this would be similar to the successful Kickstarter model.
How would you solve the high costs associated with tuition?
Update 4/18/2017: Money expert Jean Chatzky recently offered some excellent advice that may aid in lowering tuition: haggling. This is something that I had never considered and often think that it is “off-limits” when it comes to college tuition. According to Joel Peck – a certified public accountant – students can lower tuition by $5,000-$10,000 by employing this practice before signing on the dotted line.