Choosing a college in challenging times

We are at that time of the year when high school seniors are making decisions about where to spend their college years (and their family's hard earned money). This choice has never been more difficult. Rising costs only complicate the flood of marketing messages from higher education and our recent political campaign has highlighted the perceived need for everyone to get a college degree if their life is ever going to be worth living.

With hundreds of choices out there, our novice, decision-making teenagers are encouraged to "get the best deal" as if price or the bottom line is the magic short cut to finding an answer to this perplexing process.

After a 35-year career in college admissions, I served as an enrollment consultant for several colleges and secondary schools. My services took me from Ogden, Utah, to Cairo, Egypt to Lakeland, Florida, among others.

Please let me muddy the waters by offering some advice: Before you commit to any college, get some information about what awaits the graduates of a particular college after they have completed their degree. What will be their chances of finding a job that requires the skills they have acquired at their college? If they have used federally guaranteed loans to partially cover the cost of their education, what percentage of them will be able to repay those loans within the anticipated 10-year period?

A column in the Feb. 6 Washington Post by Jeffrey Selingo quotes a New America Foundation report that only 38 percent of the borrowers at a large private university in Virginia manage to pay down as little as $1 on their student loan principal within three years of leaving school. Furthermore, 41 percent of the students at that university earn less than $25,000 six years after enrolling.

There is a way for students and parents to find out how successful the graduates of each college are at paying off their student loans. On the internet, go to: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/about/data-center/student/default. There you will gain some valuable information about colleges that goes beyond the lowest price.

In an age of enlightened consumerism, I urge students and their parents to get some important answers before they make their final decision. Just getting a low price, may not be the wisest choice in the long run.

Ripple lives in James City County.

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