The College Tuition Crisis | How To Prevent Your Children From Thousands of Dollars in Student Debt

A college degree is sought after and valued in American society, but at what cost? Here’s how to talk to your kids about the true cost of tuition and how they can hold up their end of the bargain. Let’s discuss how to prevent student debt together.

How To Prevent Student Debt + The College Tuition Crisis

3 Steps To Prevent Student Debt.png

Our society is plagued by student debt. Since World War II, the problem has ballooned out of control, and now the amount of student debt has exceeded the amount of credit card debt in the country.

As a parent of three, the realities of college tuition are becoming very real to me. For all parents, grandparents and students, this topic is a big one.

Students graduate under mountains debt and most are financially crippled before they even start to find their way in the world, but here’s how you can prevent your children from carrying tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

How To Prevent Student Debt + The College Tuition Crisis

Rice University joins the trend of other elite private institutions, like NYU’s School of Medicine Harvard, Stanford and Princeton, that have made great strides towards reducing tuition or making it as close to free as possible.

For a student attending Rice, here’s the breakdown:

  • If family’s annual total income is $65,000 - $130,000 - FREE TUITION

  • If family’s annual total income is under $200,000 - HALF PRICE TUITION

SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE

Today 44 million Americans are carrying student debt— a massive shift from previous generations. It’s only getting worse— 71 percent of graduates from the class of 2012 each carry about $40,000 student debt.

Our society has college graduates who leave school with degrees in typically low paying fields, such as dance and psychology, landing jobs that don’t pay them nearly enough to afford to pay off their loans. Even a degree with high earnings potential like medicine, graduates are leaving with about $180,000 in debt!

BACK IN THE DAY…

My grandparents attended the University of Maryland in the 1950s. My great-grandfather didn’t exactly sit down with my grandfather and help him complete his application or take him on campus tours. He simply gave his blessing and wished my grandfather well in his academic pursuits. My grandfather paid for his tuition, room and board not through government loans or from his parents, but by working in the school’s cafeteria.

Many years later, I was in college and working in the school’s cafeteria for minimum wage. My paychecks barely covered the cost of my books.

CONSIDER THE SOURCE

Talk to a college financial aid counselor and they’ll be quick to offer the explanation that states pulled back on education spending during 2008’s recession and inflation has driven up the cost of college.

I’m here to tell you that their narrative is false.

The government is spending like never before on education. There was a slight dip in 2008, but it’s almost back to where it was before.

How To Prevent Student Debt + The College Tuition Crisis

COLLEGE IS A BUSINESS

It all changed post World War II. The GI Bill was introduced to fund college education for veterans and there was a major influx of college students. More students meant more professors, more deans and administrators to support the schools and more buildings to house the students. Over time, colleges and universities needed to compete for students and in came beautiful student centers, fancy dorms and sports stadiums. Translation: overhead and operating costs for colleges are through the roof!

Today, the value of the degree is lower but the cost is higher.

While we can’t change the cost of tuition, there are alternatives. Students can elect to commute from home to save on room and board costs, attend accredited community colleges, or hit the educational lottery and receive free or reduced tuition.

The higher education system is making baby steps, but unfortunately not much will change in the short term. If college is imminently approaching, take my advice:

  1. Have open conversations and include your kids.

    Even if you’re in a place where you’re going to pay for all four years, kids need to know the reality of what’s financing their education.

  2. Set clear boundaries.

    As parents, have the tough conversations about your financial contributions. If your child has their heart set on a particular school that costs $45,000 per year and you’re only able to contribute $15,000 of that, talk about how you’ll make up the difference. Maybe it’s through loans or your child qualifies for a scholarship, but ignoring the reality or shielding your child won’t make it any easier.

    What expectations do you have to keep that contribution going? Your kid needs to know that you’re not just writing a blank check for them to have fun at school. Make it clear that your kid needs to hold up their end of the bargain and maintain a certain grade point average. You’re well within your right to have your child pay you back if they don’t see college through to graduation.

  3. Have an honest conversation with your child about their motivation.

    Get to the root of their decision to attend college. Is it an expectation in your community or are they actually motivated to learn and pursue a career?

    Next, help your child explore career paths. It’s absolutely fine if they don’t know what they want to study before they arrive, but it’s your job to illuminate your child’s world and give them the realities that majors like dance, theater and history (which was my major) don’t yield the most lucrative careers.   

The student is the one who will be carrying the debt and putting in the long hours studying, so there shouldn’t be any surprises for them.


If you’re curious how to finance college or prevent student debt, know that it’s not too late. We can make a plan together to fit any circumstance.