Yesterday I visited with students in the “Journey to College” class at Stow-Munroe Falls High School. We chatted about college planning and the endless opportunities here at Ursuline. At Stow, this class is an elective, taught first thing in the morning. The goal of the class is to position students to make the best possible choices when it comes to the complex decision in front of them: what comes after high school?
The college decision, of course, is complicated by the rising cost of attendance at all types of institutions. Along with purchases of homes and cars, it is one of the most significant investments most people make in their lives. On my drive back to campus from Stow, I caught a great discussion on Cleveland’s NPR station, WCPN, about paying for college. You can listen to the broadcast here:
The contributors to this piece are on-point. There’s discussion about a cost-benefit analysis of choosing a college and choosing a major. They contemplate how much debt is too much. They weigh, from a parent’s perspective, the investment in college for dependent children vs. retirement savings. If you are in the midst of planning for college, either for yourself or a family member, this segment is absolutely worth a listen.
What it comes down to, always, is ensuring that you have a return on your investment in college. At Ursuline, our average indebtedness among graduates is just below the national average across graduates of all types of institutions. The financial planners in the WCPN story suggest accruing no more debt than the amount a student expects to earn their first year working after college. With a job placement rate 3X higher than the national average and an average reported starting salary much higher than their average debt, Ursuline grads are more likely than average to successfully manage this debt. The amount the average Ursuline graduate pays towards student loans each month is similar to a modest car payment. Given the choice between the new car and the college education, which increases earning potential over the course of a working lifetime by about 65% (see Education Pays), most college grads would pick their degree. There are always exceptions to these rules, and each family should evaluate their situation individually, but overwhelmingly, the data tells us that a private education can be affordable and an excellent value.
We also know that graduates of an institution like Ursuline are earning much more than just a credential. College can be a transformative experience, and it certainly is here at Ursuline with an emphasis on values, liberal arts learning, leadership, and more. This makes students more likely to succeed in the workplace, and in life.
Here are a few tips on making sure that you (or your student) make the most of the college investment, and see the best possible returns:
1) Graduate. Nationally only 57% of students who start college actually finish in six years (cited in the WCPN broadcast, and many other places). Nothing wastes your money more than not completing your degree.
2) Find mentors. At a school like Ursuline with a 9:1 student to faculty ratio, you’ll find mentoring and coaching constantly.
3) Get out there and build a strong co-curricular resume. In a marketplace increasingly saturated with Bachelors degrees, in most fields, what you do in addition to earning your college degree is just as important as earning the degree itself. So take on a leadership role, an internship, a research project, a part-time job alongside class. It will help you with your time management skills, too!
4) Become part of the community. My college experience continues to add value to my life years after graduating. Friends and mentors continue to be sounding boards, professional references, confidants… Being part of a campus community extends far beyond the four years it takes you to earn your degree. Invest your time here, soaking up the culture and building relationships during those four years, and it will pay dividends over time.
What else would you add to this list?
Carolyn Noll Sorg is the Director of Undergraduate Admission at Ursuline College.