Which school do you want to support?
About nine out of ten parents expect their children to go to college. Less than a third actually do so.
Many of California's students who complete high school and start some kind of postsecondary program do not go on to earn a degree or certificate (see the previous lesson). This leaky bucket is a concern for the state and a focus for a wide variety of organizations. Why do students stop their education before they reach these completion milestones, when reaching them is so clearly in their interest?
Some of the reasons are financial. There's a good chance that a college degree will help you earn more down the road... but you can know for sure that it's going to cost you in the short run.
The financial strain is not the only discomfort of stretching for college. Applying, enrolling, scheduling, attending and obtaining transcripts are all logistical hurdles, each with their own opportunities to derail an education. Most colleges provide only limited support for these processes, and to a shocking degree when students fail to finish college the reasons have little to do with academics. In 2014, Starbucks began offering college scholarships as a benefit for its employees, expecting thousands to take advantage of it. In a widely read feature story in the Atlantic, Amanda Ripley describes the practical barriers that stood in the way, and how the company improved the benefit by providing counseling support.
Full Circle Fund grantee Beyond12 works with high schools and colleges to help them effectively provide students with the academic, social, and emotional support they need to succeed in higher education. Beyond12 acts as a data and service bridge between lower and higher education systems to help them support low-income students so that more of them persist and succeed in college. Other organizations, like the Career Ladders Project focus on helping students complete career technical programs in the state’s community colleges, preparing them for well-paid careers that don’t necessarily require a four-year university degree.
Compared to other states, California provides students with easy and inexpensive options to continue their education after high school. California’s community colleges are "open access" institutions — they accept all comers. About 30% of California’s high school graduates go on to immediately attend a community college, which is tuition-free for at least the first year. When they take placement tests, unfortunately, a majority of students are found unready, particularly in math. Before they can undertake college level work, they must master high school skills. The longer it takes students to complete remedial course work, the less likely they are to complete a certificate program, a two-year AA degree, or to transfer to a four-year university.
The "net" cost of college in California varies significantly depending on family income. Most California residents attending a public college receive significant financial aid from state and federal programs. The Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) keeps tabs on increases in its annual analysis of the state budget.
The cost of college is a topic of intense political interest, and there is enormous pressure to keep net costs low. In general, the state has had a history of holding net tuition and fees flat for extended periods, punctuated by significant jumps.
California's college tuition and fees are lower than those in most other states. Even so, college is dramatically more expensive than it was a generation ago. Also, tuition is only part of the price tag. (One colorful estimate pencils out non-tuition costs at about $23,000 per year, but that includes a beer budget.) College is a major financial burden for most families, many of whom must fund short-term college costs through long-term debt.
California's college tuition and fees are lower than those in most other states.
Faced with rising tuition and declining aid, students have taken on loans in unprecedented amounts, especially for four-year degrees. In California, over half of students who graduate from a four-year degree degree program emerge with a debt burden averaging more than $20,000. As always, averages conceal extremes -- some students carry ruinous debt burdens. In aggregate, college loans in America surpass a trillion dollars, exceeding the outstanding balance for credit cards, auto loans, and home equity loans. A 2013 report estimated that than one in ten college borrowers carries more than $50,000 in debt. In 2018 the Center for American Progress published a blistering rebuke of the way that the US Department of Education measures student loan defaults under the title "The Student Debt Problem Is Worse Than We Imagined." The problems of loan distress and student bankruptcy are substantially worse at for-profit private colleges than at public colleges.
If you take out a college loan, you are the collateral
College loans have become popular with lenders because earning a degree enhances a student's future earning potential. These debts are unlike home loans or home loans, in which an asset can serve as collateral to be forfeited in a default. If you take out a college loan, you are the collateral. In order to encourage lenders to make loans to students, college loans have been made difficult to discharge through bankruptcy.
Federal financial aid for college costs is available to US citizens with financial need, if they can navigate the application for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
These applications are complex, but they are also standardized, and there are a lot of people who can help fill them out. Today's students should take at least some comfort in the knowledge that the process is much easier than it used to be. The state’s Cal Grant program helps hundreds of thousands of California families pay for higher education, incorporating federal and state sources of support. In the past, there was an utterly unaddressed gap in financial support for students in middle class families unable to pay but not poor enough to qualify for help. This gap was mitigated in 2018 with the addition of the California Middle Class Scholarship program, which covers up to 40% of tuition and fees for California residents enrolled at UC and CSU campuses.
Under the California Dream Act (AB540), beginning in 2013 non-citizen resident students also became eligible for financial aid in California colleges. To qualify, they must graduate from a California high school after three full years of attendance and file a statement that they intend to apply for citizenship when the law allows it.
Scholarships, or discounted tuition rates, are a cherished dream for college applicants. They are rare, but colleges offer them to snag particularly attractive applicants. These financial incentives have an unavoidable dark side, of course: if Peter pays less, Paul must pay more.
Many organizations want to help boost the number of students who complete college. US Department of Education resources include these:
Resources from other sources include these:
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