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Feedback from My 18 and Beyond

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Buyer Beware
For many years, the American dream has included the pursuit of a college degree. Unfortunately, today's college graduates face an unprecedented predicament. The debt incurred to get that degree far exceeds the potential income earned in the short term.

According to BestColleges, the average cost of a four-year, in-state education is $140,000. If that student has a loan at 6% interest for 15 years, that's another $75,000. That's the cost of a moderate house in some areas.

Beyond college, our economy still provides ample work for tradesmen. But many plumbers and electricians are paid to learn their trade, with ample work and opportunity available along the way. Although overlooked, a trade can provide a fulfilling life, full of challenge, and the financial stability to be more than comfortable.

To have the opportunity to pursue a degree, many students will spend at least two years of high school working toward padding their resume with activities and test results. At the very least, for most adolescents, this means countless hours working toward a test with no longitudinal tie to any matrix of success, at the cost of time spent figuring out their passions or interests or simply being a kid.

As a reward for sacrificing their childhood, college applicants get the approval of their parents and a trip on the Hedonic Treadmill, sponsored by our "intellectual elite." In their (likely) mandatory two years of liberal arts studies, students will be challenged to master subjects such as a foreign language or music appreciation in lieu of anything practical like how to file taxes or use index funds and compound interest to retire early.

To offset the mounting cost of education, many parents should consider starting their student at a community college. There are many benefits to community college. Most students can cover the cost of their education by working. By learning to balance both work and school, students can learn valuable lessons about time management and fiscal responsibility.

During their two years at community college, the goal should be not just to gain credits but to experiment within different fields of work, until the student has a clear vision for their future. Once ignited, the process of college should become more fulfilling and enriching.

The fact is that higher education has value. However, for many, the cost needs to be a part of a deeper conversation. Families need to start facing the reality that higher education might be their biggest investment. This means the decision has significant costs that must be carefully weighed against the value of the experience, as well as the long term earning potential of the degree against other opportunities.

Finally, an important footnote: where students go to school is not a reflection of their parents. Nor should the college search process be a referendum on the parents' success.

Instead, the process should help the student earn an education that will give them the skills to live a self-rewarding and self-sustaining life.
BRENDAN RYAN
Salt Lake City

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