What You May Have Missed
By Amy Choate-Nielsen, Deseret News National Edition
Published: Monday, March 18 2013 8:40 p.m. MDT
As the amount of student debt in America has grown to nearly $1 trillion and the average cost of college tuition has dramatically increased, some experts say that the model of higher education is reaching a critical level.
This story is part of the Deseret News National Edition, which focuses on the issues that resonate with American families.
Questions to ask when considering a college:
How many students graduate from this college?
How much debt am I going to walk out with?
How many people before me paid back their debt?
“I would hope that 10 years from now I can look back and say that was a great decision and I’m glad I went to school because it worked out, but I don't really believe that it will happen soon.”
Mark Smith thought he did everything right.
When it came to paying for college, almost 40 percent of his fellow undergrads were borrowing an average of $7,100 a year to pay for school. But Smith attended a less expensive state university and he earned his bachelor's degree without any debt. He didn't have a car payment, he worked hard in school, and he paid enough attention to the economy to know that he needed to be careful with his money if he wanted to get ahead.
And so, when Smith thought about going to law school, he was hopeful but hesitant. It was going to cost a lot of money, and he would need to borrow it from somewhere.
"Everybody said to me at that time that law school is an investment so it is worthwhile to take on this debt even though everyone finances it through student loans," Smith says now from his office in Washington, D.C. "Everyone said when you come out of law school you'll be an attorney and you'll make more than $150,000 starting salary."
But by the time Smith graduated from law school in 2011, times had changed. The economy was struggling, Smith had accumulated more than $100,000 in debt and his starting salary in the public sector was nowhere near $150,000.
As the amount of student debt in America has grown to nearly $1 trillion and the average cost of college tuition has dramatically increased by more than 40 percent in the last decade, some experts say that the model of higher education is reaching a critical level that must be changed or crisis awaits.
One way to address the problem is for schools to change their approach to spending and curb tuition increases. But universities aren't the only ones who can change their behavior. Enterprising students who take a creative approach to school by making sacrifices that lessen or eliminate student loans may turn the tide first — although it could be at a different cost.
Students of today are learning from the students of yesterday, like Smith. Looking back, Smith says there are some things he would have done differently in charting his education — starting with reconsidering his decision to go to law school.
"I would hope that 10 years from now I can look back and say that was a great decision and I’m glad I went to school because it worked out, but I don't really believe that it will happen soon, and I don't believe it will happen because I went to law school," Smith says. "I feel like if I do well it's because I worked hard and busted my hump."
The cost of college
Thomas Lindsay didn't have to look far to see one reason why college for his son was so much more expensive than college for himself.
On his son's first day at the dorms, Lindsay was in awe at the state of the campus. There were state of the art wellness centers with top of the line gym equipment; sparkling new coffee shops with a cozy, modern atmosphere; and the dorm rooms themselves were nicer than the first apartment Lindsay had shared with his wife after earning his Ph.D.
As the director of the Center for Higher Education at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Lindsay knows current college studies and statistics like the back of his hand. The amount of time students study has dropped by 10 hours since the 1960s, he says, referring to a study published in the Review of Economics and Statistics in 2011. More than half of students think a college degree is not worth the cost, and 75 percent think it's unaffordable, he says, referring to a 2011 study from the Pew Research Center.
And 36 percent of college students gain little to no increase in their critical thinking, writing skills and complex reasoning after four years, Lindsay says, referring to a study published in the book "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses."
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