Saturday, December 8, 2012

Higher Ed. Expenses - Entry #24

A college or university education is becoming increasingly expensive.  Compounding the problem is the yearly ritual of hikes in tuition and fees.  Undergraduate and graduate students are forced to take out more loans as grant money via financial aid continues to shrink.  Burdening students further is the need, for many, to either find an outside job or expand their current working hours to pay for school.  The focus on money, or lack there of, can have a significantly negative effect on a student’s academic performance as less energy is committed to studies and more time is devoted to generating a sufficient cash flow.  Other concerns include spending a greater amount of time to complete a degree program or simply withdrawing from the attending institution without a degree in hand.

There are ways to work within the higher education system to reduce costs such as attending a community college.  Unfortunately, traditionally aged students usually want to enroll at a residential school as opposed to a commuter institution, which would be dramatically cheaper.  The cost of receiving a college or university education was the basis for one of my recent letters.  I mailed a note to one of my nephews congratulating him on the pathway he chose to graduation, which cost a fraction of what most people pay.  Additionally, I applauded his understanding of the importance of landing a meaningful internship while still in school which, in his case, landed him a full-time position within his field of interest at graduation.

His post-secondary journey began at one of the community colleges in Connecticut.  Commuting each day, he finished an Associates Degree in Business within two years.  From there, still living at home, he drove each day to one of the state universities, completing his Bachelor’s degree in two and one-half years (the extra semester was due to an internship, described below).  While I do not have the exact cost breakdown it is safe to say he and his parents’ outlay was probably less then what two years at even a modestly priced private school would have charged.  This avenue through the higher education system is not for everyone, but it does demonstrate, as I explained to him, a determination and perseverance to get the job done within the means at hand.

While his educational savings were substantial the more important aspect I addressed in my correspondence was his understanding of securing an internship.  In today’s marketplace graduating without some sort of experience, no matter what major an undergraduate is pursuing, puts a student at a considerable disadvantage when they are looking for full-time employment.  Some students understand this need, while others are oblivious to it.  Even though advisors, career services staff, faculty, and fellow undergraduates may highly encourage students to obtain an internship, co-op experience, or participate in service learning too few of them actually follow through.  I can’t tell you how many times I discussed this with juniors or seniors only to be met with disinterested and lukewarm responses.  My nephew, on the other hand, recognized right away the value of acquiring an internship within his major.  Junior year, through determination, and maybe a bit of luck, he landed such a position.  Over the one and one-half years within the internship his job responsibilities increased.  His commitment and job performance were in perfect sync with the company.  The end result—a good job with benefits upon graduation. 

I believe I wrote in my card that I use his experience—both the route through the community college system and the achievement he attained via an internship—to demonstrate to parents and undergraduates what can be accomplished even as tuition and fees continue to rise and the job outlook for graduating seniors continues to be uncertain.  I have full confidence the next phase of his life will be just as successful.

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