An 18 year old is not expected to finance a home. A high school senior is not supposed to navigate the world of banking. No one could say that a teenager can determine how much he can afford to borrow today based on assumptions of how much he will be able to pay back in the future. Yet that’s precisely what most high school juniors and seniors are expected to do when they decide to go to college; especially during what economists refer to as the worst economy since the Great Depression. College is unreasonably expensive-even at public colleges and universities. The prolonged economic downturn includes extended unemployment at 8.3% of the workforce, and that number doesn’t even include employed workers who are underemployed by cutbacks, furloughs, downsizing, and job-sharing. Consequently, many families are struggling to keep their homes, and for some, keeping a roof over their heads is a daily struggle. So the costs of college are likely to be at the bottom of most families’ lists of priorities, but a determined high school student must find a way to get into college-even when his parents can’t afford to help.
The recession has left high school students and their families unable to pay for college; many families can’t afford college and incredibly, even those employed and struggling, can earn “too much money” to qualify for government grants and other financial assistance. Grant money isn’t readily available; government cutbacks over the last decade have chipped away at government resources to fund colleges— even now, politicians are campaigning for the White House on the platform of “personal responsibility” and the downsizing of government financing. That downsizing has eroded the available resources for the basics—higher education, housing and healthcare. Further exacerbating the predicament of prospective college attendees, the private bank loans that used to be available for education have all but disappeared.
In 2010, the New York Times reported that more than 41% of high school students stated that the cost of a college is critical to their selection of the school; and almost half (44.7%) said that the college’s offer of any financial aid was critical—that was a 12.5% increase in less than three years. But more relevant to students than the financial aid and cost was what kinds of jobs, or if any jobs were available to a college graduate after college. 56.5% of students selected schools based upon the college’s ability to help get them a job after graduation.
Instead of going to college to learn everything he can, a student is compelled, in this expensive and uncertain world, to consider what his college degree (and major) will train him to do after college. In 2011, college guide books (www.mycollegeguide.com) recommended that a major in engineering is always useful and sellable in the workforce. Healthcare related majors and computer science were also strongly recommended. The reasoning behind those suggestions is that the American population is aging; a healthcare profession will be a long-lasting career; as to computer science, in this day and age with the new digital world, computer science is indispensible.
The recession has necessarily infiltrated each and every high school. Instead of enjoying life and the social and educational opportunities that high school offers, more and more students are confronted with the brutal realities of cost, debt, employment and pay back. It’s a shame that college selection and studies have also been impacted by the recession and that students can’t enjoy learning for the sake of learning before they become adults and thrown into the adult world. Instead, they must navigate the enigmatic world of government and private loans, and financial aid, and choose a major based on professional opportunity rather than interest.