When you take your child to college, you expect to see him or her on holidays and the occasional weekend, but for the most part, you think your kid will live at school.
That used to be the norm, but times are changing.
Now, more and more colleges are turning into commuter campuses or suitcase schools. Students stay on campus during the week, but as soon as their last class is over on Friday, they head home. Then, they don’t come back until Sunday night, just in time to get some rest before class the next morning.
This might not sound like a big deal, but it can lead to some major issues for parents and students.
When your child attends college, you can expect to pay quite a bit for room and board. The average cost is about $10,440 for public colleges. It’s even worse if you send your child to a private school. Then, you can expect to pay $11,890 just for room and board. That’s a ton of money to just house and feed your son or daughter.
If your child comes home every weekend, you will end up spending even more on top of that. Commuting back and forth isn’t cheap. You’ll have to pay for gas or plane and train tickets. You’ll also have to feed your child and pay for entertainment. Suddenly, instead of just paying for room and board for one place, you’ll be paying for two places. That can make college almost unaffordable.
You want your child to have the best college experience possible. You want him or her to make friends, join organizations, and become involved. Most of all, you want your child to create memories that will last for a lifetime.
That’s almost impossible to do if your child lives on a commuter campus.
Instead of enjoying the college experience, your child will spend his or her days staring at the calendar, waiting to go home.
Even if your child chooses to stay on campus during the weekends, the experience will be a bust since the campus will clear out.
That means your child won’t be able to make those lifelong friendships.
He or she won’t be exposed to new people and ideas and won’t be challenged in ways that allow for growth.
Instead, it will just be like high school all over again, and your child will likely be disappointed. That disappointment can even impact your child’s grades. If he or she isn’t engaged in campus life, it might be difficult to buckle down and make good grades.
Many students end up surprised to learn they have enrolled in a suitcase school. They might not have realized that the school was full of metro or international students who go home often, and they are left disappointed.
Fortunately, you can conduct a little research to find out if your child’s school of choice is a commuter school.
If the school doesn’t have anything going on during the weekend, students are more likely to leave. They want to have a good time, after all, and if there is nothing to do, many will find fun elsewhere.
Peterson’s is a great resource for looking at on-campus activities. Type in the name of the school and look at the activities listed.
Also, go to the school’s website and see what type of activities and events it offers during the weekends. The more the better. Simply having movies, homecoming festivities, and picnics can keep students engaged throughout the year. That means students will be more likely to stay on campus, so they can have some fun.
Colleges that are located in huge metro areas often attract students from that city. While it’s not always the case, oftentimes, those students will go home during the weekends.
However, if the college is far from the city, the commute will likely be much greater. It won’t be as easy for students to go home on the weekends, so many will stay on campus.
Part-time students are much more likely to leave on the weekends. Actually, they might even leave midway through the week. Talk to a representative to find out how many full- and part-time students the school has. If the number of part-time students is low, it’s much less likely to be a commuter college. However, if it’s high, you might want to look elsewhere.
The best way to find out if a school is a commuter college is to pay it a visit. If possible, stay for a few days. Go down on a Thursday, so you can see what life is like during the week. Then, pay special attention on Friday. Do students start emptying out? Does the parking lot seem empty?
Saturday will provide the best indication of campus life. If it seems like a ghost town on Saturday, it’s likely not a good choice.
When you visit the school, don’t be afraid to question students. Ask them what campus life is like on the weekend. Do they stick around? What about their friends? Do they have enough to do?
Interviewing the students will help you see the whole picture. That will make it much easier to make a decision about the college.
If you want to save money and ensure your child has the best college experience possible, you have to say no to commuter colleges. Yes, it will take a little bit of research to find out if the school is a commuter school, but it will be well worth the effort.
Your child will have a much better college experience, and you will save some money in the process. That’s a win for everyone involved. I have a friend, now 35, who said she went home almost every weekend. Years later, she regretted this. She knew she didn't let herself have the college experience she could have had.
I went to college in California - from Maryland. Do you know when I went home? Christmas and summertime. That was it! I didn't expect anything different.
A man I work with's daughter went to college in California. They live in New Jersey. He flew her home almost every other weekend! Insane! "Oh, no one is around on the weekend", she would say. Boo hoo, I have no one to play with! I asked why she didn't get a job off campus? That's a great way to meet people. And make money. But no.
Editorial comment- if we never have our kids "feel" things they will never understand that they can solve their own problems. Which, as I understand it, is part of growing up?
You’ve likely heard the saying that 30 years ago, paying for college was like buying a car, but today, it’s like buying a house. That’s not just a soundbite. If you adjust prices to reflect inflation, students paid an average of $3,190 in tuition to attend a four-year institution for the 1987-88 school year. Fast forward 30 years to the 2017-18 school year, when students paid an average of $9,970.
You know that college is more expensive, but why? What makes college cost so much more today than it did just a few decades ago?
There isn’t a single answer to the question. Instead, the rising cost of tuition is based on various factors.
Let’s look at the common theories that people have put forth. First, of course, you’ve likely heard people attribute it to basic inflation. Inflation definitely impacts the cost of college, but as you can see from the example above, college prices have gone up dramatically even when adjusted for inflation. This theory is incorrect. Inflation is not responsible for the dramatic increase in tuition.
The next theory has to do with accessibility. Politicians want to make college more accessible for everyone, and that’s created two issues. First, in order to make college more accessible, the government had to make student loans easier to get. Now, just about anyone can get a student loan, regardless of income or credit score.
That brings us to the next issue. Because so many people are going to school, there is a supply and demand issue. Colleges were initially unable to accommodate all those people coming in with student loans, so they had to hire more staff. More staff means more overhead, and more overhead means higher tuition costs.
That’s a reasonable theory, and it’s partially why the country is in the middle of a student loan crisis.
The biggest reason that college is so expensive, though, has to do with the amenities. The colleges of today are not the colleges of yesteryear. Now, people expect more and more with their college experience, and that’s driving the prices up.
College students today suffer from something called “luxurious campus syndrome.” They expect their campuses to have the same amenities you’d find at a 5-star resort. They are technically there to get an education, but, they want the 5-star treatment at every turn, and that costs money.
Let’s look at all the factors that contribute to this dangerous syndrome.
Do you remember when you were in college? The dorms were nothing to write home about. They were cramped, the lighting was bad, and the bathrooms were disgusting. Yet, you dealt with it, because that’s what was expected at college. You weren’t there to enjoy a vacation. You were there to learn.
Well, that has changed quite a bit. Now, students get all the comforts of home when they’re away at the dorm, and it costs money.
Take Ivy House and Windsor Hall at the University of Florida in Gainesville, for instance. Dubbed “luxury dorms,” these are not the dorms of the old days. The female-only Ivy House has private jetted Jacuzzis, a sun deck, and a gourmet kitchen. Oh, and then there’s the opulent living room that has a big-screen TV and a fireplace. With all those amenities, how in the world can kids have the time to study?
The Windsor House is a coed dorm complete with luxury bathrooms that are even larger than the ones in the Ivy House. These dorms also have kitchenettes in them. Apparently, the days of microwaving ramen in the dorm rooms are over. Now, kids can cook a full meal in between studying for classes.
That’s just one example. The University of Chicago’s Max Palevsky Residential Commons consists of eight “houses,” and each one has its own personality. The dorm has its own courtyard, dining hall, and a basement for everyone to share. It even has music practice rooms.
Here’s the best one. The University of Texas at Austin is home to the Callaway House. This dorm offers an absurd number of amenities. Can you imagine having a rooftop pool and hot tub at your dorm? How about a game room and a theater room? Then, of course, the staff is on call 24/7 just in case anything comes up.
As you can see, these are no longer dorms. They are luxury resorts, and parents and their children are paying the price.
Next, colleges are going bigger and better with their gyms. Fitness centers are nothing new to college life. Most colleges have some sort of place for students to work out, but in the past, these gyms were anything but extraordinary. You would find some free weights, maybe a few machines, and if you were lucky, your gym had a track. That was basically the extent of it.
Guess what? That has changed dramatically.
The University of Maine might be the biggest offender when it comes to opulent gyms. The university put $25 million into its 87,000-square-foot fitness center. It has floor-to-ceiling windows, which is a departure from the fitness centers of the old days that barely had enough light to see the free weights. The rock-climbing wall helps the kids stay in shape, or they can utilize the 140 pieces of equipment.
The crown jewel is the indoor aquatic complex, though. With a lap pool, coed sauna, and a hot tub big enough for 20 people, it’s amazing these kids have enough time to do anything but soak in the water. Oh, but when they do want to get out, they can rent snowshoes or cross-country skis from the center and hit the trails. Can you imagine having all that in college?
That gym sure does sound nice, but think about that price tag. If a school pays $25 million on a gym, it has to get the money back somehow, and that is where those high tuition prices come into play. There is no such thing as a truly “free” amenity in college.
And did I mention waterparks? And lazy rivers? There is actually an article comparing the best
College cafeterias used to have some pretty bad food. In fact, there were times when it was hard to get meals down. It seemed like the food had been warmed up over 100 times by the time it finally made it to your tray. Sometimes, it felt like the food was older than you were.
Still, even though the food wasn’t good, you ate it because that’s all you had. You just tried to imagine your mom’s homecooked meals while stuffing the overcooked chicken down your throat.
Now, though, students don’t have to worry about finding good food at college. Cafeterias are so much better than ever before, and many have gone a little too far.
Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, is the perfect example of how far schools have gone when it comes to dining. This college offers gourmet dishes in the dining hall. Can you imagine getting Asian-style pork with duck sauce or mussels at the campus cafeteria? Well, you can here. The college even has lobster bakes that include fresh lobsters and other seafood options. Lobster isn’t cheap, and the idea of having a lobster bake at college is borderline ridiculous.
Then, it has its own on-campus café. Forget the Freshmen 15 at this school. It might turn into the Freshman 50 with all that good eating.
Some schools don’t just offer nice dorm rooms or great food. They have a little bit of everything, creating a resort-like atmosphere at a price most people can’t afford.
High Point University in High Point, North Carolina, is the perfect example of the 5-star resort experience some universities are offering. It underwent a $700 million campus renovation, and now it offers everything you would want when you’re on vacation, but these kids get it while in school.
The residence halls have pools and restaurants, and you can play basketball and volleyball without leaving home. Oh, and one of the dorms even lets people live with their pets. Seriously. Students are allowed to share dorm rooms with their pets. That is insane.
Then there’s the campus movie theater. The students get free tickets and concessions, but are those amenities really free? It also has an arcade, plus its own steakhouse. Students can use their meal plans to get a five-course meal once a week.
All of this for around 4,000 students.
As you can imagine, those 4,000 students pay a hefty price tag to go to this school. Tuition is $35,118, and the room and dining plan is $14,130. That doesn’t leave much money for books, does it?
Football and college have gone together for generations, but it used to be a fun game to watch with your friends. Now, it’s a big business. Colleges want to have the best football programs to bring in students, and that costs money.
The University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban makes a whopping $11.1 million, with a potential bonus of $700,000. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is the second-highest paid college coach at $8.5 million. Don’t feel bad for Swinney. He has a potential bonus of $1 million.
How do you think these college coaches get paid? Sure, the programs bring in money, but it’s highly likely that tuition supports a lot of those salaries. It costs to go to a school with a top-notch football program. Cheering the team on might be fun, but writing those tuition checks sure isn’t.
These amenities are wonderful, but there is an unintended consequence. Student loans are out of control.
Student loan debt has reached $1.48 trillion in the United States. That’s trillion, with a “T.”
That debt is divided among 44.2 million Americans.
Sadly, many cannot afford to pay their student loans. There is a delinquency rate of 11.2 percent. That’s a scary statistic. Colleges cannot take the degrees back from the student when they don’t pay their loans, so what is going to happen? The student loan bubble is likely about to burst. Remember what happened when the housing bubble burst? That was catastrophic. It could be even worse when the student loan bubble bursts.
That’s all terrifying, but do you want to know the most troubling static?
Parent Plus loans have reached the $88 billion mark. These loans have the highest interest rates and origination fees of all the student loans, and that’s why so many parents are carrying student loan debt into retirement.
Ask yourself this. If you didn’t have the money to save for college in advance, are you going to have the money to pay those loans off in the future?
The answer is no. That means if you take out these loans, you’re likely to end up paying on them well into your golden years. Is that really how you want to spend your retirement?
Parents and students need to come together and make smart choices about college. Your coed does not need a swimming pool on the roof or a 5-course meal. He or she can also leave Fido at home instead of bringing the pup into the dorm.
These amenities are not free. You pay for them now, or you pay for them later with student loans. Either way, you are wasting your money when you get all these amenities.
The student loan bubble will likely burst, and soon, families will be forced into making smarter decisions. Be a leader instead of a follower. Make smart decisions now so you won’t have to worry about it later.
If you aren’t sure how to pay for college without taking out loans, enroll in a virtual workshop and get the information you need. That way, you won’t drown in debt to fund a four-year degree.