The catalogs and magazines from colleges and universities are impressive: slick paper, full color, attractive layouts and lots to read. But several items of useful information are usually missing.
Getting a bachelor's degree now takes five or six years instead of the traditional four. That drives up the already exorbitant cost another 25 percent to 50 percent more than you may have budgeted. Yet your degree isn't worth one penny more.
Only 31 percent of students at state institutions and 65 percent at private institutions graduate in four years. The primary reason for this slowdown is the easy flow of taxpayer money for grants and loans that make the extended stay pleasant for students and profitable for the institutions.
Don't count on college counselors to guide you to the courses that will
enable you to graduate in four years. The counselors are working for the college, not the students, and they know which side their bread is buttered on.
In addition to the out-of-pocket costs of tuition and housing, be sure to count the cost of lost employment for a couple of years. A University of Texas administrator estimates that each additional year in school costs students $50,000 in additional college costs and lost income.
When Pennsylvania last year promised $6 million bonuses to colleges that graduate at least 40 percent of their in-state students within four years, not a single state institution qualified. Some colleges have tried various inducements to increase their four-year graduation rate, but none can match the attraction of having tuition paid by taxpayers.
According to the General Accounting Office, 64 percent of college students graduate with student-loan debt, and the average student-loan debt is $19,400. After they join the work force, their monthly payments take at least 8 percent of their income.
This burden is even higher because more than half of student borrowers take out the more expensive unsubsidized loans. Surveys show that students often underestimate the total cost of their loans, forgetting about the interest, which over time can almost double the amount of the loan.
The use of credit cards by mostly unemployed college students is another current phenomenon. The average credit-card debt of undergraduate students is $2,748, and of graduate students is $4,776. The average student is carrying three credit cards, and 32 percent have four or more.
Some colleges give the credit-card companies access to lists of students and then get a kickback of a percentage of charges on the cards. It should come as no surprise that bankruptcy filings have reached a record high, and the fastest growing group of filers are those younger than age 25.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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