Archives for March 2013

Selecting A College or University Part III

Price and Quality

Quality of education is one of the most confusing things about American higher education.  There are no good quality measures routinely reported. The most common education quality parameters actually work against the modern learner, especially adult learners.
Buzz TodaySource:   Your Future is Calling   For example, it is clear from comparisons that the cost for a four-year graphic design major varies tremendously. At the low end of our example we have an annual cost of $6,914 per year at Columbia College versus $42,360 at Boston University.

To understand this dilemma, we need merely look at the premiere University in America today – Harvard University.  Beside being the original American university with the largest financial endowment, Harvard is cited as the university giving the highest quality of education.  Unfortunately, actual Harvard quality parameters  cannot even be used by returning adult learners to make a choice.

When we boil it down, the two cited quality parameters most critical to our perception or quality are price and selectivity.  Why?  Because as an adult living in Kansas City, Missouri we do not have the time or resources to travel to Boston and take several days to visit the campus, talk to faculty and sit in one of the dozens of libraries this esteemed institution has on its campus.

Given this reality, it is important to examine what price and selectivity mean to the college selection decision.  When it comes to price, we have a general set of beliefs that apply to nearly all purchase decisions.  Unless we have direct experience with the product or service our general belief is that high price must mean high quality, otherwise why would people continue to pay for it?  In general, this is not a bad assumption, especially for an institution that has been around for hundreds of years as Harvard University has been.

It is the inverse of the high price/high quality assumption that really hurts the average Joe or Jane when selecting a college.  The inverse assumption is that low price (tuition) means low quality.  Now before you come out of your shoes about low cost higher education stop and hear me out.  There are very good higher education options that are available for one half to one third the tuition cost of Harvard.  To consider them you have to know which colleges those are.

The point of this conversation about price and quality in American higher education is that these commonly cited quality indicators simply do not help the majority of adult learners returning for their education.  In the end, these learners need far better information than price to make a quality decision.   See Your Future is Calling for specifics.

Selecting A College or University Part II

Earning a degree is now more important than ever.  Experts predict that the majority of new jobs that will be created over the next decade will require a post secondary degree of some kind.  Today, less than 40% of Americans hold such a degree.  The mismatch between current supply and future demand is obvious.

   Buzz TodaySource:  Your Future is Calling.  When you have earned credits in your prior education you actually have those credits.  But there is a problem when you want to use those credits in a degree program.  It is not where you got those credits that is important in American higher education.  It is where you are trying to use those credits, that is most important in American higher education. It is very important that you understand this.  Even though you earned the credits and you paid the tuition, and those credits are on your official transcript they might be worthless. Not the U.S. Department of Education nor even God himself / herself can guarantee that those credits will be accepted in a different degree program.  It is only the university you are entering that has the authority to grant those credits as being valid toward the degree you are seeking. 

Today an education is more important than ever and represents a huge investment in time and money.  You would think that the information required to select the right school is readily available.  Wrong!  Given the complex world we live in there is more information than ever.  But good clear information is scarce.

So, how can this be?  The answer is that our world is far more complex.  Today the choice of a college involves not only the selection of a place to call your alma mater, it involves your life choices.  This is especially true for adults returning to education.

A high school graduate entering a freshman class has several years of general education to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their life.  An eighteen year old filling out their second semester class roster has little risk of getting their course selection wrong.  Their choices at that stage have little impact on the life they will lead a decade later.

For an adult with a prior education who has a spouse, has kids and works every day at a job – filling out their class roster has more risk in their choices.  These choices include the college or university they plan to attend.  How the courses are delivered (online or in class), what majors are available and how much of their strained income tuition consumes are all related to the school selected.  Unlike the typical recent high school graduate, this adult is particularly sensitive to time to graduation and cost of enrollment.

So how are you to decide which college or university is right for you?  The answer is that you need detailed and reliable information about the majors available, credit transfer policy, grant availability, scholarships and accreditation of every college you are considering attending.  One place all of that information is available is in:  Your Future is Calling.

Selecting A College or University

           If you have already taken college courses or worked on a college degree, this is probably how you did it.  First you picked the college then you enrolled in the course(s).  Buzz Today  Source:   Your Future is Calling University -> Major 1 -> Major 2 -> Major 3 -> Degree -> Look for a job->Hope job fits “who you are”

The BUZZ Today shows how you are likely to have made your education choices in the past.   Notice this decision starts with picking the school first, then what you are going to study, followed finally by the degree.  If this has been your experience please raise your hand (virtually).

At this point you are probably thinking “of course this is how I did it.  How else would you do it?”   I will answer that question in a moment, but first let’s look at this decision making process in more detail.

You probably picked the university first because of something about the university – it’s location near you, in state, it’s where your friend went, it had a good football team etc etc.   The decision looks innocent enough.  What we will see over the next string of posts is that this decision first is in fact loaded with all kinds of dangers and pitfalls that are not obvious at all.

For now, I want to suggest that a far better way to make this decision is also in Your Future is Calling.  That decision process is:

Who You Are -> Career -> Major -> University -> Degree -> Find the Job that Fits Who You Are

Over the next several weeks I invite you to join me at this blog to explore some of the important implications of this new approach.  I assure you it will be well worth your while to explore with me why these choices are so important to your future.

As a departing idea here let me briefly return to the university selection decision shown in the BUZZ Today.  I suspect that when I said that your decision to enroll at a particular university was based on it’s location, it’s where a friend went, it had a good football team etc.,. you thought “yeah, what about it?”

For right now I want to leave you with the thought that the things I listed were all about the university.  They were not about you.

More to follow.   Join me further down the road at a future post.

There’s Debt Then There’s Debt

Student debt gets a lot of attention these days and rightfully so. As a country the total bill is over a trillion dollars and growing. Buzz TodaySource: The Wall Street Journal “Young people are racking up larger amounts of student debt than ever before”

The debt is real and a serious issue for both the borrowers and our nation. Here is why.

Under current law, our federal government only has so much money it can lend to college students. I know this seems counter intuitive in our world where the federal government just keeps on borrowing and borrowing as though the bank account is without end. It’s not. In the case of student loans it is easy to see the problem.

A college student can borrow only a specified total amount of loans. When those have all been used, there is no more to borrow. This defines a total amount that the government can lend in total. Over a trillion dollars of that lending capacity has been used. There is a trillion less that can be loaned in the future.

We have already looked at why this is a serious issue for the borrower in the earlier post titled “Debt”. But though we have talked about one aspect of the issue, let’s return to look at it from another perspective. You can reduce the amount of debt needed to earn your degree in the first place.

When you buy a house, you consciously take action to manage the amount of debt you take on with the purchase. In the case of the house purchase you have professional help. The bank is looking over your shoulder. They will not allow you to take on too much debt. They do this by looking at your credit score which tells them about your repayment history. This is to help them determine if you are a good risk which means they have data that shows them you are likely to repay your loan back.

In the case of the home loan, the bank also looks at your personal income. This is to give them (and you) data on how likely you are to have the money to repay the loan. This protects them… and it protects you. It does so by protecting you from your temptation to take out more debt than you can handle.

No such factors exist when it comes to student loans. You are on your own.

Beware, the temptation to take on more debt than is manageable is real. Millions have already fallen into the trap.

So, when it comes to debt, not all debt is equal. Beware. Look hard before you leap into student loans. They can bite like no other.