Paying for a College Education in this Country

Allow me to rant.  I don’t know how many of you out there are in my same boat:  approaching 60 years old but nowhere near retirement, due, in large part, to student loan debt!  When I was younger, in my early days of working, I always imagined that when I was approaching 60, I’d  be winding down, getting ready to do projects like putting old pictures into albums or organizing my closet. But here I am, 57 years old, and, instead of picking out a retirement village or planning a cruise down the Nile, I’m putting in my 40 hours a week and, even with that, trying to figure out how we’re going to pay tuition for another 9 years—at a minimum—for our 3 kids who are still in college!

Here’s our story, but all you have to do is change the small details and you’re hearing the story of lots of so-called “middle class” people in America: my husband and I both attended graduate school using student loans.  Since we married fairly late—and, as a result, had kids fairly quickly—and therefore couldn’t earn as much as we might have if we’d gotten an earlier start on things—we  couldn’t pay off those student loans until we were well into our forties.  So, about the time we got completely free of our own student loan debt, we had only a few years before we had to take on new debt to help our kids go to college.  And why did we have to take on that new debt?  Because we made enough income at that point to not qualify for the kind of financial aid that could have made it possible for us to do it without loans.  In fact, we would have had to live at or near the poverty level to qualify for that kind of financial aid!


And, in case you’re wondering: the debt is pretty much the same, no matter where your kids go to school—unless he/she qualifies for a few amazing scholarships that are out there for the straight-A kids who play six instruments and five sports and started their own non-profit while in the 9th grade!  The fancy private schools offer great financial aid, if they have good endowments—but that only brings down their massive tuition to the same level as the public schools—and the public schools offer only minimal financial aid.  We’ve had kids at a big public university and at two small, liberal arts colleges—and the bill has, in each case, been about the same.


I have to say: it’s not hard to envision a time when our colleges, especially fancy private ones like Yale or Princeton or Duke or Davidson, will have as their student body a mix of only extremely wealthy kids, whose parents can pay their way, and extremely poor kids on scholarship. It’s happening!


In any case, back to us: we’re taking on significant new student loan debt—and so we’ll be working until we drop!

I don’t know how people do this in America!  All I can say is that some days I wish I’d had the good sense to emigrate to Canada early on—or to any other country that invests in education for its young people!


And I don’t even want to think about graduate school!  People say to me, “Just tell your kids they’re on their own  for graduate school!”  That’s all well and good, until you think about the reality.  What if, for instance, our youngest daughter, who really wants to be a doctor, ends up taking out loans for her career with tons and tons of student loan debt, which, under the best of financial circumstances (she delays getting married and having children because her medical practice is such a huge financial success) will take her years to pay off—until about the time that her child goes to college, at which point she’ll be making too much money to qualify for good financial aid, so she won’t be able to afford to pay for her child’s college without student loans, so that child will have to get significant loans for college and graduate school…and the beat will go on and on.

The whole set-up these days is enough to discourage anyone in America’s rapidly disappearing middle class from ever getting anything past a college degree—assuming they make it that far!

4 thoughts on “Paying for a College Education in this Country

  1. Jane, another glimpse from below. We ARE at poverty level and man, the University will still hand you a bill that would put one on the street…WILL put me on the street! My daughter and I sat in the living room on our second-hand couple of pieces of furniture till 2am last night trying to come up with a way to pull $10,000 out of a silk hat. (That is on top of loans). AND though she’s trying to piece her summer employment together…there’s just no jobs. AND FURTHER! She wants to be a music teacher. We looked online to see what 1st year teacher salaries are and, gulp, her loans will be way more that the recommended “don’t take out more loan than you figure your first year’s pay will be.” Ha! There may be no jobs anyway.
    Woe, woe, woe….work till you die.

  2. True words…and what really stinks is that even after college and incurring all this student debt our children will struggle to secure jobs. It’s very disheartening!

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