Whiting column: A range of ways to make college affordable | PostIndependent.com

Whiting column: A range of ways to make college affordable

Bryan Whiting

Bryan Whiting
Staff Photo |

How do we pay for college without major debt?

I have been asked this question several times since the prior column about our responsibility to take advantage of the educational opportunities our country provides. The solutions are many and require action by parent, child and society.

Facilitate your child working and saving their earnings. It will not only add to their postsecondary training fund but make them more employable in the future by instilling responsibilities regarding personal and work characteristics that are hard to develop in any other fashion. A summer of work can easily produce $4,000 in the bank. Three summers produces at least $12,000.

Should they work during high school and make more money? The student determines the correct answer. If they are taking a “full” academic schedule, actively participating in athletics and other co-curricular activities such as drama, DECA or mock trial the answer may be “no.” If they are majoring in 7-11 or Pokemon the answer is “yes.”

The key is not only to facilitate their saving but require it. A car, new skis, latest phone, trendy clothes are not necessities.

Facilitate your saving for your child’s education. Start early. At a parent teacher conference I had a father state, “Wow, John’s a junior, I better start saving for his college.” I wanted to throw a glass of water in his face. Unless he’s making $200K per year it’s a little late. But $300 per month earning 3 percent for 18 years produces over $86K. That’s a start.

Coming up with $300 per month isn’t easy, but possible. Besides working more, we as parents have to look at our own spending. We have to be as disciplined as we are asking our children to be. In addition, minimizing our vices will provide money. The average tobacco smoker annually spends $2,800, which is $50,400 over 18 years; average drinker $5,200, which becomes $93,400; marijuana $1,600 turns into $28,280. Vices are fun, but where we spend our money tells us what we deem most important.

College 529 Savings plans are one route to save and can decrease your tax bill. SavingforCollege.com provides a great explanation.

Yes, you do have a responsibility to help with your child’s postsecondary education. I have had many parents say, “My parents didn’t help me, I’m not helping my kids either.” That’s taking your basketball and going home because you lost a game of horse. It’s our job to help our kids be educated, employable citizens. Plus, you don’t want them coming back home to live at age 30.

That doesn’t mean you should pay for everything. Students are more motivated if they have some skin in the game. This is where their work savings comes into play. Don’t rely on the athletic scholarship dream. Few students can get them, and any college athlete will tell you it’s not a gift.

Obviously, the student should continue to work during the summer in college. Summer wages are better than loans.

Colleges have a responsibility to lower costs and have many routes to do so. In the past 10 years, college costs have risen 5 percent per year; far higher than the cost of living and more disparate from the rate of increase in personal income.

The average professor teaches 9-15 hours per week for 30 weeks. The average public school teacher is in the classroom 30-35 hours per week. The average employee in the private sector works 40-50 hours per week. Sure the professor has preparation to do, but so does everyone who is successful in their career.

If professors taught 30 hours a week, the number of professors at a particular college could be reduced by 50 percent, a large savings.

A recent positive trend is more colleges are getting students into the classes related to their chosen career sooner. Instead of three or four semesters of more “high school subjects,” the student takes only those necessary to get to a defined proficiency level. This not only provides greater relevance to high school learning, but many will have more than half their freshman classes in their chosen career area, generating a higher level of motivation and cost savings.

The average college semester is 15 weeks; 30 weeks for a two-semester year, leaving 22 weeks a student is not taking classes or a professor isn’t teaching. There is a seven-week summer session, but this allows for only a partial schedule. Why not have three 15-week semesters? This leaves seven weeks off during the year; far more time off than most employees are allowed. This would provide the opportunity for a student to finish in three instead of four years. Per student professor costs would be lower. The buildings are there; usually paid for by public dollars, so why not use them?

A university is a fixed-cost industry like the airlines; a motel. Any businessperson knows the key to a fixed-cost industry is to maximize the use of the resources: Fill the plane, fill the motel rooms, use the buildings and professors.

College is expensive, but it is our responsibility to facilitate such for our kids.

Bryan Whiting believes most of our issues are best solved by personal responsibility and an understanding of nonpartisan economics rather than by government intervention. He recently retired after 40 years of teaching marketing, entrepreneurship and economics. His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month.

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