My dad used to have a Country Parson cartoon under the glass on his desk that read,” It costs a lot to get an education these days and a lot not to.” The only boy in his family – or on the block – to graduate from high school, my dad had a passion for education and believed it was the key to a better life, a choice open to anyone willing to work hard and sacrifice, if necessary, to do it.
I’d like to believe that’s still true, but it’s a lot tougher now. Not sure how it worked in my dad’s era, but as baby boomers we had the opportunity for the ”pay as you go” plan to fund our educations. We could work full time during the summer and part time during the school year and pretty much pay for tuition, rent and books. Not sure who can do that now.
While tuition has risen dramatically over the last 20 years, wages have not. So when fellow baby boomers say “I worked my way through college – my kids can, too,” I feel compelled to argue the point. According to CNN Money, average tuition and fees for a four-year public university in 1998 was about $2,800. Ten years later that number had climbed about 130% to roughly $6,500 a year, not including books or room and board. If incomes had kept up with surging college costs, the typical American would have earned $77,000 a year in 2008, rather than the $33,000 they actually did earn. That makes the “pay as you go” plan pretty unrealistic.
Sure, there is loan and grant assistance available but, by definition, they have to be repaid. Back in the 60s, some college kids took out loans to buy stereos or cars because it was cheap money and repayment was reasonable and realistic. A college degree can now necessitate loans totaling $60,000 to $80,000 and post-college could be well over $100,000. What kind of entry level job supports that kind of loan repayment and how much money is too much money to borrow? The other day I heard that a good rule of thumb is to borrow only as much money as you would expect to earn each year in your career. So if your salary might range from $40,000 to $50,000 a year, your total school loans shouldn’t exceed that amount.
Education is an investment, a solid investment, with worth that doesn’t fluctuate with the economy. I just hope those with the potential to cure cancer or to find new sources of energy or to stop global warming aren’t daunted by the cost of education and the ability to borrow money or to pay it back. We need you.
So, as with all the wisdom my dad endowed upon me this, too, is true. Education extracts a cost, one way or the other. And my money is on those who pursue it.
NOTE: As Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea builds it s new public website scheduled to go live in early 2012, Tuesday Talk will no longer be available. The last Tuesday Talk on the public website will be Nov. 29. If you are interested in continuing to receive these posts, please subscribe and they will automatically appear in your email, as they are written and posted. Please look for more information on next week’s post. Thank you.