Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Big Squeeze: Middle-Class Families Look for Answers on How to Make College More Affordable

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Big Squeeze: Middle-Class Families Look for Answers on How to Make College More Affordable

Article excerpt

BY ALL STANDARDS, HAMIL HARRIS IS a middle-class parent: He makes a decent salary, he commutes in a late-model car from his suburban home near the nation's capital, he shuttles his children to Little League and scouting on Saturdays, and he worships with them on Sundays. Yet this single father of four hit a snag when his two eldest daughters entered college, one right after the other.

"It was really hard," he said. Fortunately, one daughter received scholarship money, and the other attends a community college to cut down on the family's education costs. Like the Harrises, more families are turning to more affordable community colleges and alternative schooling to defray costs.

At the same time, more politicians are proposing bipartisan legislation to provide two free years of community college to accommodate students who would not otherwise be able to get postsecondary degrees and certificates they need to obtain 21 st-century jobs. However, critics question the long-term viability and sustainability of these government incentives that could elevate the country's workforce.

Cindy Vaughn of another D.C. suburb, Hyattsville, Maryland, is also a middle-class parent. Her son does not qualify for grants or low-cost loans because, she quips, "We make too much money."

Vaughn said it cost her son $40,000 to attend two semesters at Temple University, which included tuition, books, fees, room and board. Her son was eligible to get $12,000 in loans, and the expected family contribution was $28,000.

"We did that for a couple of semesters, but that was insane because it was more money on top of more money," she said. "The issue is where the money is coming from?"

Her son "put college on hold" after his sophomore year. He has since earned a certificate in photography from what was then Boston University's Center for Digital Imaging Arts, in 2012. At $31,000 for a 24-month program, it still wasn't cheap.

Awards for grant money are unfortunately not based on GPAs, Vaughn pointed out, but on who has the greater financial need. "Again, it's a catch-22 for people who are not destitute," she said. So, Vaughn advises parents to start searching for grants and scholarships as their children enter high school. While sending children to community college does save money, she said, "It's a concept that you have to sell kids on because college means going away from home to most of them."

These middle-class parents and students are among the millions who are caught in a quagmire trying to figure out how to afford essential college degrees from traditional four-year institutions as tuitions continue to rise. They are being saddled with increasing debt--collectively now more than $1.2 trillion dollars, according to a March 2014 article titled "The Great Cost Shift Continues: State Higher Education Funding after the Recession" for Demos, a public policy organization in New York. "Average tuition at 4-year public schools now consumes more than 15 percent of the median household income in 26 states, and average total cost--including room and board--consumes more than one third of median household income in 22 states," it said.

Students are simply priced out of the opportunity to obtain a college degree and get ahead. A troubling study conducted by the University of Washington found that "it is no longer possible to earn enough wages by working through school to afford the full cost of education."

"Many students are working multiple jobs while taking other cost-saving measures like commuting long hours to cover costs. This harms the ultimate value of their college experience," said the report "Meet Us in the Middle: Affordability for the Working Student," based on that 2013 - 2014 study.

Recognizing this unsustainable situation for the individual as well as the nation, educators and politicians have been trying to devise methods to make college more affordable. …

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