Writing Contest: Semifinalist

Life After High School

Kylie Cassidy, Hoover High School, North Canton, OH (Teacher: Mrs. Rashmi Chopra)

On June 8, 2008, I will go through the rite of passage of flipping my tassel to the side and becoming an adult with many decisions to make, the most important being the choice to go to college. As the economy moves toward a recession, the cost of living (and college) increases because of the high demand for money. Because banks are making fewer loans, the opportunity to go to college is shrinking for many because the average cost for a private four-year school is up 6.3 percent from last year (Kelley 1). But is it really more economical not to go to college?

Today more people are receiving grants and scholarships than ever before, which is helping lower the bill for the institutions. At the same time, a growing number of unskilled jobs are being sent overseas where they can be done more cheaply, decreasing the demand for unskilled labor. For full-time dependent students at public two-year colleges, net tuition and fees are no more than 2% of the family income; full-time workers aged 25–34 with college degrees make an average of $14,000 a year more than those with high school diplomas (Kelley 2). That makes the difference in earnings between those with only a high school diploma compared to a B.A. more than $800,000 per lifetime, undoubtedly enough to pay for the college education the high school graduate lacks (College Board 2). But where can one get the tuition money if banks are resistant to lend?

Over the past decade, total student aid, including grants, loans, work-study, and tax benefits, increased by 95 percent, adjusted for inflation (College Board 2). Loans constitute just over half (51 percent) of total aid to graduate and undergraduate students, while grants make up 44 percent (Kelley 2). The difference between loans and grants is that grants do not have to be paid back, whereas loans must be paid back with interest. The average cost of a four-year private college jumped to $30,367 yearly for tuition and fees—most colleges are more affordable than you think. For example, did you know that about 56% of students attend four-year schools with annual tuition and fees below $9,000 (College Board 2)? After grants are taken into consideration, the net price the average undergraduate pays for a college education is significantly lower than the published tuition and fees. Over the past 11 years, average college costs increased more rapidly than inflation, according to the latest report from College Board; however, the rate of increase at four-year public colleges slowed slightly for the third year in a row—to 6.3 percent from 7.1 percent—making college more affordable (Kelley 2). Total student aid increased 3.7 percent to $134.8 billion in 2005–06, but Pell Grants decreased significantly (by $120) for everyone who received them (College Board 3). However, many campuses are moving from hardback books to hard drives by using online textbooks, which are cheaper, while those who decide to get a job may be flipping burgers for $6 an hour, almost paying more money for gas than what they are earning.

By now, the picture is quite clear: Those who decide not to go to college may become obsolete in the future because it is cheaper to outsource the labor, while those who go to college will have more job and financial security, a big deal in a global world. There is help out there for anyone who is willing to put effort into finding it, although less of the help may come from banks in the future. So, as I move my tassel, I know I will have taken the high road, lined not with gold, but with dollars and cents that I will earn many more times over than a high school graduate because I am going to college.