Before and During College: We Must Address Declining Enrollments By Making College More Affordable

The United States has a serious postsecondary educational problem. It’s affecting individual Americans and the whole nation. And though it needs to be addressed, it’s receiving scant attention.

From 2010 through 2017, fewer students enrolled in U.S. postsecondary degree-granting institutions every year. In 2017 almost 1,254,000 (6%) fewer Americans were attending such institutions than in 2010.

Federal enrollment compilations for 2018 aren’t yet published, but National Student Clearinghouse numbers suggest last fall will mark eight straight years of enrollment decline.

We’re in the knowledge-based century, so this matters — e.g. 79% of American manufacturing jobs went to those with high school diplomas or less in the 1970s, but now over half such jobs require some postsecondary education. Over 95% of all jobs created since the Great Recession went to workers with at least some college.

And for our nation to remain economically competitive, we need more Americans with postsecondary degrees. The U.S. now ranks 13th in the percentage of 25-34 year olds with these degrees (47.76%) — behind competitors like Canada, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

Here are some myths about our postsecondary enrollment decline . . .

  • Enrollment always increases during and drops after a recession: For nine straight post-World War II recessions, enrollment spiked in the fall closest to the peak of that recession’s unemployment rate. But the longest post-recession enrollment drop lasted just two years. Conversely, the seven-year post-Great Recession decline is the longest in U.S. history.

So what’s happening? Probably several things. But a most powerful one is surely the matter of postsecondary affordability.

In academic year 2018-19, the average total cost of attending public 4-year colleges and universities was 42% of 2017’s Median Household Income. No more than 24% of this cost was covered by the Federal Pell Grant, down from 43% two decades before. And 65% of 2017 bachelor’s degree recipients graduated after borrowing an average of $28,650.

These costs and debts doubtlessly frighten many students into joining, for example, the 56% who drop out of 4-year schools before completing bachelor’s degrees.

Moreover, the nation’s full-time equivalency rate of undergraduates fell almost 7% from 2010 through 2017. This indicates that increasing numbers are attending college part-time — a behavior strongly associated with dropping out.

But 78% of today’s postsecondary students work while enrolled, their jobs average 30 hours per week, and 25% of them work full-time. It’s nearly impossible to maintain full-time course loads with such demanding employment schedules. And what with escalating costs, family income limitations, and the shrinking “purchasing power” of their grants, students must work for money from sources in addition to or other than loans.

It’s time for policy makers to do something! It’s time to ensure that college becomes more, not less, affordable with each passing year. Reach out to your congressional and legislative representatives about this early and often between now and the 2020 election using Find Your Representative!

Seeking ways of your own to make education after high school more affordable? Let College Affordability Solutions help. Call or email us at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.

Authored by Tom Melecki, PhD, College Affordability Solutions.

Before College: Technical Schools May Be Better Options Than Colleges — But Shop Carefully For Them!

Kenny’s beginning his senior year in high school, and he’s looking forward to it. For one thing, his required schooling will soon end — something he’s looking forward to because subjects like civics, English, foreign language, and health bore him to death.

Kenny loves cars and the systems that operate them, so he wants to become a mechanic — and this year he’s got two classes directly related to that. One on computer systems; the other an advanced automobile mechanics course.

His guidance counselor tells Kenny that entry-level mechanics’ salaries average about $39,000 a year, but they rise for those with the right education, certifications, and experience. So Kenny knows he’ll need more schooling after high school. The question? Where can he get classes focusing solely on the workings of motor vehicles so he won’t be bogged down with subjects he doesn’t like?

Technical schools — also known as trade or vocational schools — are exactly what Kenny needs. Their classes and hands-on experiences lead to associate’s degrees, certificates, and diplomas for specific careers. And because their coursework concentrates on those interests, students can graduate from them more quickly and with a tighter focus than from 2 and 4-year colleges. They can also cost less than such colleges whether they’re for-profit or nonprofit.

Moreover, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce reports that two-thirds of today’s jobs require postsecondary learning but not necessarily college, and that growing numbers of good jobs — positions paying 25-44 year olds at least $35,000 a year — don’t need bachelor’s degrees but do demand more than high school diplomas.

However, there’s a catch with technical schools. While many offer excellent classes and high placement rates, governments regulate and supervise this sector of postsecondary learning poorly — especially it’s for-profits — so some technical schools are rip offs. Their students suffer big educational debts, high drop-out rates, and few good jobs after graduation. Some are also in shaky financial condition, which can lead to overnight campus closures.

Kenny needs to shop carefully for technical schools, looking past their marketing pitches and instead:

  1. Checking out their costs, graduation and retention rates, salaries after attending, and student debt levels on the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard;
  2. Finding and talking to their current and ex-students about whether they deliver what they promise;
  3. Doing Google searches to see if the media reports any complaints or scandals on them, or if they’ve recently closed any of their locations;
  4. Contacting their state regulatory agencies for whatever data they can share about them.

Good, sound technical schools help students achieve rewarding careers they want. But before enrolling, make sure they’re good and sound. Thoroughly check them out.

Searching for ways to get a quality but affordable postsecondary education? Call College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or email us at collegeafford@gmail.com for a free consultation!

Before and During College: Ways to Cut Student Costs During and After College

Many Americans are starting a new year at college. Others are searching for the colleges they’ll begin attending next fall. One thing both groups probably already realize is that postsecondary education is very expensive.

College costs have skyrocketed. From academic year 1998-99 to academic year 2018-19 average total cost of nine months at college increased 133% for private 4-year schools and 148% for public 4-year institutions.

These costs typically include tuition and required fees, books, room and board, transportation to and from campus, and some personal spending. But there’s another cost seldom considered — student loan interest, which generally amasses every day but which customarily gets paid only after commencement..

Here are four great ways to downsize these costs:

    Quality Over Price! Some think that the higher the tuition and fees, the better the school. Not so! The government’s College Scorecard provides much more useful data about 5,800 postsecondary schools — average student loan indebtedness and monthly payments for graduates, graduation and retention rates, and post-graduation salaries.
  • Minimize Time-to-Degree. Less than 42% of undergraduates earn their degrees within 4 years. But graduating on schedule, or even early, can reduce in-school costs and diminish Federal Direct Unsubsidized and PLUS Loan interest accumulation. So enroll full-time enrollment every term, don’t drop classes, and avoid dropping or stopping out of school.
  • Live Modestly. Borrowing to support a professional lifestyle while in college creates loan payments that’ll limit you to a student lifestyle after college! Costs for food and shelter often exceed tuition and fee expenses — even though most students do just fine residing in modestly-priced apartments and dorms, living with roommates, choosing economical on-campus meal plans or, if off-campus, cooking at home instead of eating out. All these strategies are money savers.
  • Leave the Car at Home. Colleges, universities, and cities in which they’re located frequently let students ride free on their mass transit systems. Also, there are multiple ways — car pooling, mass transit, etc. — to go from campus to home and back. So cars at college are seldom necessary. They add costs for fuel, maintenance and upkeep, parking fees, and repairs for damage and vandalism — thereby increasing college debt.

There are many other tried and true cost-control methods, too. The College Affordability Solutions website has a Topical Index with Before College and During College sections, each with a “Cost Reduction Strategies” subsection. There you’ll find links to articles addressing more than 20 methods for cutting in-school costs and de-escalating student loan interest.

College will never be cheap, but it can be less costly. So do some homework. Set your strategies, and then stick with them!

Looking for help with strategies for controlling your college and your student loan expenses? College Affordability Solutions provides consultations to future, current, and past college students and parents — all at no charge. Contact us at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com if we can help!