Parkland Press

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Another View

Thursday, September 26, 2013 by LINDA WOJCIECHOWSKI lwojciechowski@tnonline.com in Opinion

College: Getting the most for your money

Millions of college students around the country are now experiencing their first time away from home with total freedom.

These students are taking on not only the challenge of achieving a strong grade point average, but they face hurdles their parents did not have, especially the cost of the education they are acquiring.

In a recent speech President Barack Obama gave to University of Buffalo students, he addressed the soaring cost of a college diploma, while acknowledging the importance of higher education.

"The incomes of folks who have at least a college degree are more than twice those of Americans without a high school diploma," he said. "So more than ever before, some form of higher education is the surest path into the middle class."

In the last 30 years, Obama said, tuition at public four-year colleges has increased by an average of more than 250 percent, while a typical family's income has gone up only 16 percent.

This has left many students with a crushing debt load upon graduation, despite the availability of grants, scholarships and work-study programs.

The solution to the problem of skyrocketing college costs, the president says, lies with creating incentives for colleges to control their costs and with the implementation of state and federal programs that benefit students instead of banks, lending programs and universities.

But what's a student to do while waiting for the government to ease the burden?

It hardly seems fair. You study hard in high school to keep your grades up, decide on a career path, choose your college carefully, take on the challenge of the FAFSA form to keep your costs down and hope you can get a job that will pay down your debt when you graduate.

My recommendation is to get the most out of that pricey education during your college years while you are there.

The strongest memories of my first two years in college as a teenager in the late 1960s have more to do with the social challenges I faced as a young person – living with a freshman year roommate who was not a good match, facing the death of a friend who was killed in Vietnam, falling in love, working part time in the college dining room, figuring out where I fit in on the school newspaper staff and serving as secretary of the Association of Women Students.

Of course, there were hours spent poring over textbooks, researching in the library, reviewing class notes, writing papers and studying for finals, but those are not the first memories that come to mind.

It was the social issues which stand out, and that is because they are such transforming years for students of that age.

I shared the cost of those two years in college with my parents, 50-50, and completed them without any debt, thanks to income from summer jobs and a work-study job on campus.

After 24 years of marriage and raising a family, I returned to college to complete my junior and senior years, this time completely at my own expense. And this time, all of my focus was on getting the most for every dollar spent.

If I didn't understand something being taught, I questioned the professor after class until I got it. After all, I was paying his salary.

When I was assigned a faculty counselor who was not making much effort to advise me on curriculum decisions, I found another one.

When seminars or workshops were offered on study skills or time management, I attended.

I recall managing my academic load by creating a calendar of self-appointed research and drafting deadlines for projects due at the end of a semester.

I sought out part-time jobs and internships that would most likely lead to a job offer after college, not just the easiest ones to find.

In short, I worked at getting the most out of what the university had to offer.

Looking around a classroom one Monday morning at the young students there, I recall only four or five were actively interested in contributing to the discussion.

Two were asleep at their desks and many of the rest were putting in the least amount of effort necessary to get through the hour.

I thought of all the money they and their parents had saved up or borrowed to give them the opportunity of higher education and wondered if they would graduate ready to excel at anything.

There are so many issues young college students face at this time in their lives, but being too distracted by them to focus on the education, for which they are paying a dear price, could lead to a high debt for just an average education, and entering the job market unprepared.

College years should be completed with more than a GPA on a transcript in mind. They can be an opportunity to learn to take care of yourself, set goals, learn to resolve conflicts, work on group projects and ask for help when you need it.

These are all skills needed in the real world, no matter what your career path.

Perhaps while you are getting the most out of your education, the president and Congress can work together to figure out how to keep the cost down.

Linda

Wojciechowski

associate editor

Catasauqua Press