Real college crisis has little to do with tuition costs

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 16 2013 8:25 a.m. MST

In this Friday, Oct. 19, 2012 photo, graduate student Pedro Ramirez, right, talks with Associated Students Inc. Vice President Jonathon Bolin on the campus of California State University, Long Beach in Long Beach, Calif. Ramirez says he managed to finish his undergraduate degree from another CSU campus in Fresno last year without student loans - but not without credit card debt. Many people don't understand the vast benefits of obtaining a college education despite high tuition costs and shorter-term debt, an article in The Atlantic says.

Jae C. Hong, AP

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The problem with "college costs" isn’t actually the cost of tuition so much as the lack of information about the benefits of obtaining a college education, according to an article by The Atlantic.

Even with rising tuition, the cost of not attending college has doubled in the last 30 years. In this case, "cost" refers to the wage difference between college and high school graduates.

Median weekly earnings by education level

High school students unfamiliar with post-secondary education tend to not understand college prices. The net cost versus the listed tuition price is vastly different. Also misunderstood are financial aid opportunities and admissions processes.

“A separate study found that low-income teens overestimate tuition costs by 100 percent and repeatedly underestimate the lifetime gains among university graduates,” Derek Thompson wrote in his article.

A study done be the University of Toronto showed that when low-income students were shown a three-minute video about the return rate of college, they expressed greater interest in obtaining post-secondary education. They were also shown how they could calculate financial aid possibilities.

Lynne Ward, executive director of Utah Educational Savings Plan, said planning ahead could enable many more to afford college. Getting the information out at younger ages could start the savings for parents and future students.

“We encourage people to save for college in advance, so they either don’t incur student debt or don’t incur as much student debt,” Ward said. “Should someone take out debt to get a college degree? Personally I think yes, that’s a good investment in yourself, but the better investment is to save up front.”

Last year, more than 60 percent of 21-year-olds were not currently enrolled in college. Twelve percent were high school dropouts and 43 percent graduated from high school but didn’t continue on in their education. This, Thompson said, is the real college problem.

Along with financial aid promoted through individual universities, websites provide information on thousands of scholarship opportunities.

EMAIL: alovell@deseretnews.com

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