Thursday, November 11, 2010
Ask the Administrator: Encouraging Junior to Stay Home
A new correspondent writes:
My children are about to “leave the nest” and head off to college. I have been on a number of college visits now, gone on campus tours, and listened to presentations from admissions staff. In many cases, the university has a “College of General Studies” for those whose major is “undecided”. Tuition for those enrolled in the College of General Studies is considerably less than for those, say, in the College of Engineering. The admissions representatives quite blatantly point out that, for the first two years, everyone is taking the same general education classes, but those enrolled in the College of Engineering are paying several thousand dollars more for them. Of course, no one can get a degree in General Studies. Those in the College of General Studies are expected to transfer into something more specific by the time they have achieved Junior status. The point is that there is a common theme in these presentations; “gen ed classes are gen ed classes.”
Of course, no university representative is going to suggest that prospective students save money by taking some of those gen ed classes at a community collegeand transfer in later. Still, we all know that tuition at a community college is much less than tuition at a university. One of the perks of being a full-time faculty member at a community college is the free tuition benefit for my dependents. Now, the question is…. how does one successfully promote the “live at home for another year and save $40K in tuition” to the senior in high school? It is very hard to combat the high school graduate’s desire to go away to a university, have the dorm experience, and feel independent. The argument of my economically unaware child is, “I can just take out student loans. Other people do it all the time and they manage.”
Of course, we as parents will help pay for some of the tuition, but we also feel that the college student should also be paying a portion of his/her tuition. Still, as one who had student loans hanging over my head for a VERY long time, not taking advantage of the affordable, transferrable, quality classes available at a community college seems like a poor plan.
You’ve stumbled upon one of the great unspokens of higher ed. Those huge freshman classes taught by T.A.’s are cash cows for universities. They subsidize other parts of the operation.
In terms of convincing your kid, I think the first question would be whether convincing your kid is actually a good idea. It may be, but each kid is different. What’s the motivation for starting at the university? If it’s little more than “that’s what’s next,” then a cc transfer program can be an excellent choice. If it’s “to get the hell away from my parents,” then talking about student loans would largely miss the point. Does your kid want the whole dorm experience, as you seem to imply?
Thinking back to my decision-making process in late high school, I remember thinking of college not just as a credential or a set of classes, but as a phase of life. It promised many things, not the least of which was getting out of the house and having The College Experience. (I defined that as including smart new friends, tremendous daily freedom, and visions of sex that seemed shameful back in those pre-internet days.) I ruled out any colleges within easy driving distance specifically to prevent falling back into old habits. Distance was a selling point. If you kid is thinking along those lines, then stressing the cost advantages of living with Mom and Dad probably won’t make much of an impression.
Some parents use bribery. They explain the cost savings to the kid, and offer to split the savings with him. This usually takes the form of a car. I always found that vaguely creepy, but your mileage may vary.
If your kid is thinking about distance as a virtue, one way to go might be to find a good cc relatively far away. Depending on where you live, the tuition penalty for being out-of-area may not amount to much, so you could still save on that while giving the kid some freedom from home.
If you do decide (or convince your kid to decide) to take a cc seriously as an option, I would VERY STRONGLY recommend making an appointment to talk with that cc’s transfer counselor before making a decision. Find out which universities have agreements with that cc, and how many credits they’ll take for a given program. You’re right that most of the basic gen eds transfer without issue -- Intro to Psych is Intro to Psych pretty much anywhere -- but some universities have quirky variations that you’d only know if you asked upfront.
At this point, my recommendation would be to look at a cc as a safety school. (They don’t get much safer than open admissions.) Apply to several places, and apply for financial aid at each. Then compare the post-award costs of the various places. Some private colleges rely on “Presidential Scholarships” (that is, discounting) to give everyone a break off the sticker price that nobody pays. Public universities tend to do much less of that, but you can’t always predict the post-aid cost just from looking at the sticker price. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking of loans as aid. Loans are loans. You’re looking at the cost after any discounts or scholarships. Depending on the offers you get, you may be surprised.
As to how you get teenagers to take the future seriously, I have absolutely no idea.
Wise and worldly readers, what would you suggest? Is there an argument that might persuade the kid who has romantic visions of dorm life? Is there a way to get a 17 year old to take future student loans seriously?
Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.
This maybe didn't answer the question but it's what worked in our home.
Also, if the reference to Engineering relates to the student in question's interests, rather than being an offhand remark, then that is probably a motivator for wanting to be at an Engineering school instead of a CC. As a science major myself, I can say that my first two years really were not full of "gen eds", and this is even more likely to be the case for an engineer, no matter what admissions confesses. Engineering programs are regimented and unfriendly to transfer compared to most majors, so this refusal to consider the CC is perhaps not as ill-thought-out as it seems.
He told my brother and sister and I that he would pay the cost of in-state tuition at a public university, or the equivalent. That is what his parents did for him.
But the money came with strings attached -- if I took out loans, he wouldn't pay a cent. I would be on my own.
So my options were to either go in-state at my parents' expense, go out of state and take on a huge loan burden, or work really hard in high school and try to get scholarships to an out of state school that would bring the cost down to equivalent to the in-state tuition.
And the last option is what I took. I think I got better grades and learned more in high school precisely because I was so motivated to get out of state and away from home. That's how important that factor was to me!
And in retrospect, I think my dad did me a big favor. For a little while, because I was doing so well in high school, I resented him for making it impossible for me to dream of going to Princeton or Stanford... But now I'm glad I didn't. I think I was happier and learned more at the little liberal arts college I did end up attending, on a roughly 50% merit scholarship. And I made it out with no student debt, for which I am grateful every day, since my husband (whose parents paid nothing toward his college) pays hundreds of dollars a month servicing his, and it would be hard for us to afford two such payments.
It might be a little late for your correspondent to try to dictate the terms a deal like this -- I started high school already knowing the rules, but might've been more upset if my dad had tried to pull that on me at the last minute, after I'd already made other plans, and after it was too late to try to earn my way out of state with grades and test scores.
But I will say that the more a parent offers to pay, the more leverage that parent will have over where the kid goes to college.
However, I also want to second what rarr said. This decisions isn't just about $$ - it's also about curriculum. I chair at a large university, and advise a lot of transfer students, many of whom come from community colleges. What does your son want to study? If he wants to study English or history, a year or two at a local community college is likely to be excellent preparation - he can "get the gen eds out of the way" and transfer to work on his major later. On the other hand, if he wants to study science, the performing arts, a content area with licensure to teach high school, then he really is better off at a four-year institution. I hate to say this, but a lot of Admissions people are woefully ignorant about curricula. If your son has definite career plans or is leaning towards specific programs of study, you are better off calling up the department chairs at the four-year institutions in which he is interested and asking them to talk with your son. I do that all the time, and am happy to do so.
Aside from that inaccuracy, the correspondent does have a good point. It is cost-efficient to take "gen eds" at a community college, assuming the student doesn't have her heart set on a specific program that has different requirements. If she transfers to a 4 year school, she graduates with the same degree as everyone else there, but for less money.
But most teenagers can't understand this. They live in the NOW. All they see NOW is that they want to be at a far away college with a dorm and an atmosphere. Take it from me - I spent my late teens and early twenties making substantial mistakes because though I was intelligent enough to understand "doing X leads to consequence Y," I couldn't apply this information.
And to be fair to teenagers, it relates to problems most people struggle with their whole lives. We are always punishing our future selves by making decisions that make our now selves happy for the moment. Eat that candy bar even though I know it isn't good for my long-term health? Okay! I like candy! Procrastinate on this big project at work even though I know I'll be suffering when I have to cram it in at the last minute? Okay! I like hanging around on the internet! That kind of gratification exerts a strong pull for all of us, every day. Adults are better at fighting it because we have experience and context - we know what it's like to struggle to pay bills, so we have the motivation to avoid going there again, and we don't go on a shopping spree or quit our jobs, even if we want to. A teenager who has never had that stuggle simply can't grasp it, even if she knows, logically, that debt is a bad thing.
It might help to put it this way. What couldn't you buy, what freedoms did you not have, what experiences did you miss out on because you had that student loan bill hanging over your head? It's hard for a young person to grasp "paying bills is hard" when they have never done it, but it's not so hard for them to understand exclusion. And bad finanacial choices do bring you to that point.
1, as a former 17-year-old in essentially the situation you describe: This will be, and should be, a very tough sell. I have absolutely no regrets about leaving the nest; the peer group at the university I attended was far more challenging than that at the college in town, among other advantages. Had I spent a couple of years at the college in town, and then attempted to transfer as a junior, I would not have had the academic maturity to compete with students who had already had two years at the university.
2, as a department chair who spends a lot of time troubleshooting general education courses that didn't transfer as expected: Gen. eds. are not gen. eds., in two respects. First, the combination of courses required may differ substantially from one institution to the next. Second, some courses will be sufficiently distinct that apparently similar courses don't transfer as equivalent, leaving students with elective credits that do them very little good. In six years, I have never encountered a transfer situation in which all credits applied directly to my institution’s requirements, even though we are a not-especially-fancy public university.
1. I stated my undergraduate career off as an engineering student and then switched to comp sci somewhere down the road. I'm pretty sure Admissions' statement that "everybody has two years of gen eds" is bunk, but I can only speak to my experience. So if the OP's student actually does want to study engineering, read on:
At my institution, we had a whopping 18 credits or so of non-engineering electives (and they were required to be split between social sciences and humanities.) As an engineer, there was no such thing as a "free elective." (When I switched to CS, they permitted six credits of free electives.)
I actually wouldn't encourage an engineering student to take all of their electives at a CC and transfer out. I more or less did that (dual enrolled my senior year of HS and made the high school pay through PSEO) and it sucked. The non-engineering electives are usually balanced out throughout a student's course of study. No disrespect to other majors, but engineering courses are HARD. Most elective courses were of the "Intro to..." variety, and they were pretty easy, unless they were weeder classes, and then those were simply avoided. Point is, it's nice to balance out "advanced engineering blah blah" with "intro to..." courses. Taking them all at a CC first makes life a bit harder down the road. And it's nice to get a break from "all math, all the time."
2. DD hit the nail on the head with getting away from mom and dad. That was my goal, and no amount of logic and reason was going to dissuade me. There's also the campus experience. When I dual enrolled, the campus experience at the CC wasn't much to write home about. If that's what the kid wants, well...
3. Money. Parents can always say they're not cosigning any loans. That won't stop junior from borrowing, but it will severely limit the amounts. The only loans that a typical freshman can qualify for are the Stafford unsubsidized and subsidized loans. The good thing for junior here is that that the amount he can borrow is severely limited. For the first year, he's limited to a few thousand $. He won't be able to get private loans on his own.
Reality: Have your student write up a budget. Have them model three scenarios - the ideal they want (away from home, 50k tuition, dorm life etc. or whatever they are looking for), some sort of middle ground (CC first and then the dorm experience or a cheaper 4-year school), and the cheap option (CC and living at home). Have them sit down and figure out the loan debt needed in each scenario and the payments that would be due. Have them research jobs they could get after school and compare the salaries with the loan debt and other living expenses they would have. Explain to them what it means that student loans (unlike other loans) can’t be discharged in bankruptcy.
Support: Sit with them while they do their research. Give them reality checks when needed (you know you’re planning on working 25 hours a week while in school making $20/hr. – that’s not realistic etc.) Make an excel sheet for them to fill in. This doesn’t have to be something they do entirely alone – but most of the work should be theirs.
If your child can't make these kinds of budgets and think through the consequences of their decisions, they shouldn't be making those decisions. By forcing the student to sit down and make a budget, you are teaching them a vital skill - being able to evaluate if taking on a large debt will work out long term. This same method should be one they use to decide whether or not to take out a car loan or buy a particular house so you are teaching them a life skill.
The comments made earlier about some degrees being hostile to transfer is spot on so whatever you decide it should be sensitive to that (for example, biology majors that “just do GE” at the local CC will spend 4 years at the local state college getting their degree). I would also add that if your student is serious about transfer they should research any transfer agreements that can be made guaranteeing that they will have a place at their university of choice.
Can your free tuition be transferred to another school? Are there others in the state the student could attend that are far enough away to give them distance (if that’s what they want….)?
I would have lived in a box under an overpass if that's what was needed for me to leave home for college. As it was, I had no car and lived on about $600 per month in a small, sad, bug infested little apartment. Your child may be similarly determined to get away.
That said, the idea that everyone is taking the same gen eds for the first two years is a potentially harmful one. As some have said, this isn't usually the case in science and engineering.
I have advisees who transfered from CCs and who are behind in their courses and will probably take an extra year to graduate because they've taken the wrong classes. It's not a problem of credits transferring. Their credits have typically transferred fine and fulfilled all of their gen ed requirements. The problem is, that's not what they should be doing with their first two years if they want to graduate on time. Gen eds usually don't have prereqs, do have multiple courses that can fulfill them, and do have multiple sections for each course, so they can usually be put off without consequence. Putting off courses that count towards the major can delay graduation because they often have prereqs, they often don't have multiple options to fulfill them, and there are usually fewer sections offered.
If you end up spending two years at a CC followed by three at a state school, I'm not so sure that's financially better than just having spent 4 years at a state school. Base on the state school where I teach and the local community college, the 5-years option gets you out about $2,000 ahead, but at the cost of a year of your life and earnings.
Secondly, I'm puzzled why you'd have to "bribe" your kid at all. I graduated high school at 17, but even if I was 18 it's extremely doubtful I would have been given student loans without my parents as cosigners. Still, there's only so much you can do. But I bet if you don't "help" them set up the loans, arrange to move, etc, they will likely go to a cheaper school locally. I was not given a choice and lived at home while I went to college, and among other things it gave me an incentive to graduate sooner and therefore be able to get a full time job and move out sooner.
I came from a family where I was the first person to even go to post secondary. My parents (and aunts/uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc) didn't really have any advice, so I was on my own for financial and educational decisions. As one may expect, I left for school and took on some student loans (and had some scholarships, which were great since I kept up my grades). Even if my parents did sit me down to try to plan a budget, I'm not sure how much help it would've been, since rent, books, additional costs would've been as much a mystery to them as to me.
In the end, I think it's important for any young person looking at post secondary to have some clear goals that at least make some economic sense. Going to an expensive, far away school could make a lot of sense if you come out with excellent job prospects, even if it means short term pain. Likewise, going to a 2-year program then transferring getting a degree in "something interesting" with no real plan could be a financial wreck even if it is cheaper than going to a 4-year program right away. And sometimes experience is just the best teacher.
Fortunately, I got a good scholarship and was able to escape.
I guess what I'm saying is that everyone is different. I had a level of academic talent such that I needed the challenges available at the R1 state university with an honors section and the ability to leap into sophomore and junior classes my first year.
I envy the folks who had relationships with their parents good enough to consider living at home. My folks eventually got a lot better, but it would have killed me to stay at home.
In a general sense, whether or not 17 year old people are inherently stupid, what they definitely are is inexperienced. They don't make decisions based on years of financial freedom and job hunting, by definition. I think the best thing you can do is to be increasingly leaning in the direction of "what are you going to be doing with this degree?" It's possible to be happy with little money, but it's impossible to be happy with little money, a family, and school debt.
1. You WILL go to college. You do not have a choice.
2. You have choices about WHERE you go to college. Your choices are:
a) Where ever you get a full ride.
b) An in-state, public university.
c) Anywhere else YOU want to pay for. This includes your other parent's private alma mater. S/he and I both agree on this point. It's not worth the price. It wasn't when s/he was there.
I want to reinforce what rarr said, but also contradict the advice -- under some conditions. Those conditions mostly relate to the magic word Articulation and the quality of the local CC faculty.
I'll start by warning the writer about the admission's rep at whatever school they were visiting. Yes, the freshman engineering majors at nearby Wannabe Flagship are in some sort of "general studies" pre-engineering major until they meet the requirements to enter the appropriate college as a Junior (but often as a Sophomore), but NO, they are not taking General Studies classes. They are taking calculus and chemistry and calculus and physics. They often defer humanities until later to get on track in their major. Now if the kid isn't ready to start in calculus as a freshman, it might pay to learn math from a CC professor rather than a Uni grad student teaching for the first time in English.
But it is simply not true that most engineering schools don't take transfers. The Elite ones (e.g. Harvey Mudd) generally don't because of their curriculum, but even top quartile state schools need transfers to fill the slots left vacant by failed freshmen. Lots of failed freshmen.
You know, the freshmen who went to college for the Dorm Experience that left little room for calculus homework. Ask that admissions rep about attrition sometime.
If choosing to transfer, Articulation is crucial. Weak articulation might as well be none at all, but schools with strong articulation agreements turn out students who are as ready to go directly into their upper division engineering classes and finish in another 2.5 to 3 years, just like the native students do.
Quality is also crucial for a CC, and difficult to judge unless you can find out the answer to a question such as "what faction of reverse transfer students fail calculus at your CC?" I dread seeing outside students taking my physics class, since they rarely know as much math as our students do.
Finally, like Punditus, I had an awful relationship with my parents during my high school years, and I completely hated the area to which we moved when I was a junior in high school (said area also hated me). I too would have drunk anybody's blood to get away. A week away at another institution and my relationship with my parents improved dramatically. I didn't have to take out loans or ask my parents for $$ to go away to university, so I can't say what I would have done if debt had been my only option.
The CC would be a great option to pick up gen eds during the summer (or winter session if they have it). If he does attend the CC as an engineering major, he probably needs to move on after only a year. It would, of course, depend on the CC to some extent but it must be investigated.
Lastly, my brother attended the local CC but lived in an apartment away from home. It got him some real world experience, something similar to the dorm life (apartments literally right across the street from campus), and got him out of my parents' house. Everyone found that a satisfactory compromise. Add bonus: the apartments next to the CC were much cheaper than the apartments by the Uni just five miles away.
However, even if the student in question is interested in the humanities or social sciences, you still have an uphill battle ahead of you because of the perceived lack of a campus culture. Who wants to stay at home doing what seems like high school 2.0, with no independence and uninteresting classmates? The ticket price on a university is nothing to a teenager who wants to be out and immersed in youth culture, with no parents to monitor his movements and plenty of people around.
I don't know what your current living situation is; if you live in a big city, then CC won't deprive the student of any culture. But the more probable situation, I suspect, is that you live in a small-medium-sized town which teenagers (rightly or not) consider to be rather boring. Selling your child on staying in Nowhere, USA is going to be hard, especially since his friends are probably not staying. If they are, though, that's a point in the CC's favor, so try to find out!
Also, pardon me while I beat this dead horse, but a prospective math, physics, or engineering major will only be one year behind coming out of a CC if they are prepared to start in calculus and don't screw up. (That is because we, like rarr, teach a full year of organic chem as well as multiple sections of all levels of calculus and physics.) It takes 2.5 years minimum to finish an engineering degree, and many students take longer to be sure they fit in one or more internships. The best deal is to take your calculus and chemistry at the CC during HS and then, depending on articulation deals, finish the AA or just transfer.
Finally, I see plenty of reverse transfers who either (a) did not start in calculus and were going to be a year behind anyway or (b) messed around and are now two years behind a native CC student. Individual snowflakes are all different, you know.