Four-Year Myth -- What You Can Do Now

Complete College America's white paper The Four Year Myth proposes its solution to the problem of college students taking 5, or 6, or more years to complete an undergraduate degree. CCA calls it "Guided Pathways to Success" (pp. 14-19).

Their's is an impressive solution to a problem that must be solved; and the sooner the better. However, CCA's solution is systemic. It requires system-wide changes in states, universities and colleges.

That will be nice . . . when it happens. In the meantime, you've got a kid in high school. What can be done for your student?

It would take a book to detail everything Succeed Where It Counts does (and such a book is in the publisher's hands, right now). But even through a book, it is an impossible challenge to address every variable. Your student is a unique human being. Your student deserves a tailored fit. Your financial future also benefits.

In outline form, here's what SWIC addresses with each family:

  1. AFFORDABILITY: what is a realistic budget, annually, for you to pay for college? Components include ways to reduce spending, student employment, and dollars currently being transferred away unknowingly and unnecessarily that can be recouped.
  2. INDIVIDUAL ASSESSMENT: we use the Birkman Career Assessment to help every student begin to visualize what a career might look like.
  3. CAREER COURSE-SETTING: we use Candid Career, job-shadowing and other opportunities to help a student capture a clear and accurate picture of what a particular career involves on a day-to-day basis.
  4. ACADEMIC RIGOR: we encourage students to evaluate their own ability to do college level work, and to compete in rigorous, academic environments. Their high school transcripts are a key indicator.
  5. COLLEGE SELECTION: we lead students through a process of narrowing down, from many dozens to a manageable group of a dozen or so colleges, for finer scrutiny.
  6. CAMPUS VISITS: are essential, time consuming and costly ( parents' PTO, travel, overnight lodging, food). That process begins online, and on the telephone to minimize costs.
  7. FINANCIAL AID: (free+self-help+loans) we work with parents and develop their plan. It sets parameters for what may be possible for scholarships and grants-in-aid ("free" money) from the colleges; for students' employment during college (self-help); and for the Direct Student Loan program. We discourage borrowing by either student or parents beyond the Direct Student Loan limits.
  8. CONSUMER PURCHASE: (value + price) at the end of it all, the decision is a family choice and a personal choice. The least expensive is not always the best, and the best is not always the most expensive. College is a consumer purchase. That means price and value are factors to weigh when making the decision.
Contact Suceed Where It Counts today for a no-cost and no-obligation consultation. Click on the "Home" tab, and then on the red button at the upper right corner of the Home page.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

The Four-Year Myth -- why are students not graduating in 4 years?

Two more today and next week and that will wrap up my synopsis of Complete College America's white paper The Four Year Myth.

  1. What CCA concluded from the research
  2. How SWIC addresses CCA's solution
Complete College America's white paper did not address the underlying economics causing the explosive rise, over the past 20 years, in the costs of a college education.


They did uncover corollary cost contributors which are, primarily, students taking longer than the presumed amount of time specifically, 4 years to complete an undergraduate degree.
  • Students, overall, take unnecessary, non-degree-related classes. One reason is the schools themselves offer classes that have pop-culture, emotional or intellectual appeal, and are substituted for a degree-necessary class because students want a break from the academic rigor of their majors.
  • Students transfer from one college to another.  CCA's White Paper states that 60% of bachelor's degree recipients transferred colleges and, thereby, lost credits toward graduation.
  • Students need a class that is either full or otherwise unavailable. That may leave them short of credit hours sufficient for scholarship and grant requirements. Therefore, students take classes they do not need simply to generate a credit-hour load for financial aid purposes.
Finally, all of those are directly related to students entering college without a clear direction as to purposes and outcomes. Every first year student must define a major to pursue and, at least, an inaugural vocation for which that major is preparation.
Next blog will specify how SWIC strategically addresses the issue.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

On-Time Graduation is Not Optional



That image is from Complete College America's white paper, "The Four Year Myth."

Colleges report graduation rates as so many percent of a first year cohort completing a course of study within six years. Add $140,000 to what you think (and even financially plan for) are your out-of-pocket costs. Now what's the cost of a college education look like?

And, realistically, the numbers cited do not account for inflation (currently +/- 6% annually at colleges nationwide). Nor do those numbers show the opportunity costs of $140,000 over a working lifetime.

In that same white paper Complete College America exhorts colleges to reform their systems so that students do not wander in the limbo of "discovering themselves."

My blunt advice is, "Get a job or join the military. Discover yourself. Then go to college."  Sorry. I said it is blunt.

There are other pathways. Those take time, effort and, in most cases, a little bit of money. Well worth all of that!

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

Four-Year Myth -- Graduation Rates Matter

Look at these graduation-rate numbers:
 
Community Colleges

1- TO 2-YEAR CERTIFICATE
15.9% - ON TIME
 
2-YEAR ASSOCIATE
5.0% - ON TIME

Four-Year Institutions
4-YEAR BACHELOR'S
(NON-FLAGSHIP)
19% - ON TIME

4-YEAR BACHELOR'S
(FLAGSHIP/VERY HIGH RESEARCH)
36% -  ON TIME

That disturbing reality is the report of Complete College America, as of 2015.  I included their Community College statistic for a very important reason. Many parents adopt a position that their student will attend community college and, thereby, reduce the expense of education. That is demonstrably not true, unless the reasons for all of those statistics are addressed -- specifically, intentionally and intelligently.
  • Specifically: statistics apply to everyone in general, and to no one in particular. When I meet with students my perceptions are often significantly different from the descriptions offered by their moms and dads. No surprise, on the one hand; but, on the other hand, the differences I perceive translate into many tens of thousands of dollars in college expenses. It is not some kid going to college. It is YOUR kid!
  • Intentionally: an affordable college education for your student will not happen by accident. Sadly, this anecdote is true:
    • A mom emailed me: "Please tell me how we can get money from FAFSA for our $24,000 college costs." This student was a high school senior. It was March of her senior year, and FAFSA has no money either to lend or to give.
    • My heart breaks, but that family simply waited too long and made too many assumptions about financial aid and affordability.
    • Affordability  -- people ask me when is a good time to start. I say, "When you come home from the doctor with the news you are pregnant." Since most of us are not that well organized, nevertheless, as soon as the thought occurs to you, do not procrastinate. Contact me immediately. Affordability is possible and the more time you give yourself the better off you will be.
  • Intelligently: Affordability also involves the process of college selection. Factors that must be included are
    • Academic/admissions threshold
    • Graduation rates
    • Retention rates
    • Flagship programs
    • Financial aid history.
The troubling statistics do not have to trouble your family, but you will have to act constructively for that to be so. Succeed Where It Counts, Inc. provides every family a complimentary conversation that is, virtually 100% of the time, illuminating. Schedule that conversation today.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

The 4 Year Myth -- Hidden Costs

$600 million dollars a year in unanticipated, if not unnecessary college education costs due to students transferring from one college to another. According to Complete College America's "The Four Year Myth" 60% of undergraduates transfer at least once prior to completing a four-year-degree track. In so doing they lose credits for courses taken, and extend their length of stay in college by a year or more.

Six hundred million dollars is an eye-opening number, yet it still leaves you thinking about "all those poor people," rather than, "That's me!" Furthermore, there are other, often hidden costs associated with lingering around the ivy-covered walls longer than prescribed.

In a previous blog, The Four Year Myth A True Story (March 20, 2017; scroll to read it), there is cited the costs of two extra years. That includes cost of attending four extra semesters plus income not earned over that same period of time. The dollar figure cited ($220,000) is not theoretical, but actual and is borne by one family for one student for one undergraduate diploma.

Other hidden costs, seldom considered, include the time value of money, also known as opportunity cost. Here are two examples:

  1. Jack and Jill use retirement funds to defray education expenses. They take advantage of the IRS exception permitting a penalty-free withdrawal from their 401k account. But they still owe the tax due on the amount withdrawn. Even that, however, is not the hidden cost to which I allude. Let's assume J&J were earning, without a hiccup, 6% annually as their return on investment in a well-managed retirement fund; and they withdrew $40,000 to cover education costs of $10,000 per year for four years. If J&J are 45 years old, and retire at age 67 they lose 6% compounding growth on $40,000 for 22 years. What does that add up to?  One hundred forty-four thousand, one hundred forty-one dollars and change ($144,141.50). That amount may well equal their entire tax obligation on the full value of their 401k at retirement. Assuming their student is attending at the average cost of $23,000 per year, and assuming it takes only four years to graduate, the college education they are telling everyone cost them $92,000 in fact cost them more than $236,000.
  2. And now the example becomes even more hair-raising. Assume they avoided raiding their retirement fund and, instead, took out a line of credit on their residence (HELOC), paying 6% for the privilege. Let's also assume that, following the four years of college they got that loan repaid in ten years, totaling fourteen years of debt service.  Principle + interest equals $59,219, plus origination fees and other incidental costs. Add that onto the lost, compounding growth they could have gained had they invested $40,000 instead of borrowing it, and the cost of a four-year education approaches $300,000.
My question is, "What else could you do for your student with $300,000?" Until that question is answered it is hard, if not impossible to answer the question, "Four years of college: how much is that worth?"

Granted, there are other virtues beyond the "sheepskin." Many students find their life partner at college, enter into a career path that is fulfilling and remunerative, and develop a network of strong relationships that serve a lifetime.

I advocate, therefore, it's not just price, but value. Determining value takes work that, I believe, most families would do if they knew to do it. You've read this so now you know.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies, Retirement Planning.

The Four Year Myth

 
Complete College America is a non-profit formed to address the obvious problem of students attending but, seemingly, never graduating with a marketable education. Among the group's publications is the "Four-Year Myth."

Are you operating under the delusion of that myth?

I can't recount how many parents (especially dads) have assured me, "I've told my kid 4 years -- that's it!" Then what? With your students and you into the thing at costs approaching, if not exceeding, six figures are you really going to abandon it? Can you send your children off into the workplace with "some college" as their resume enhancement? In this and several, successive entries I will summarize and comment on the key points.

First: In American higher education, it has become the accepted standard to measure graduation rates at four-year colleges on a six-year time frame. . . .  As lifetime savings are depleted and financial aid packages run out, the extra time on campus means even more debt, and for far too many students, additional semesters do not result in a degree or credential.
 
There are two, primary reasons students do not finish a "four-year degree" in four years.

  • Changing majors mid-stream
  • Transferring between colleges even from a community college to a four-year institution.
Think about those:
  • How can you reach your destination when you don't know where, from the outset, you're going? Succeed Where It Counts, Inc. offers each student the opportunity to complete a Birkman Assessment. Some parents resist the idea that their 16-year-old can have any clear idea of a career, but the evidence indicates otherwise. Teenagers not only can, but in fact, should know their strengths, weaknesses, aptitudes and interests as measured through an objective, scientific tool. If nothing else, such a strategy offers the opportunity for teens to break free from the trap of less-than-helpful peer influence. Every high school student should be applying for college admission based on a clear sense of career direction from the outset.
  • Another vital component to achieving four-year success is research on, and visits to every college under serious consideration.
    • Does the school offer the major you seek?
    • Is that academic major a flagship program, or one of the "we offer that, too" after thoughts?
    • Do you like the campus?  Geography, architecture, campus life and other factors of personal taste matter a lot when you consider that the college you attend will be your place of residence and work for four years 24/7.
    • Meet the professors in your proposed major subject. Are they friendly, approachable, persons with whom you otherwise would be comfortable associating? How do you know? A campus visit.
    • Talk to current students and ask what it is they love and what it is they're not so crazy about. How do you do that? A campus visit.
Next blog will address the hidden costs of extended stays in college. For now we'll leave it with this quote from Complete College America.
However, something is clearly wrong when the overwhelming majority of
public colleges graduate less than 50 percent of their full-time students in four years.
Current on-time graduation rates suggest that the "four-year degree" . . .  [has] become little more than modern myths for far too many of our students. The reality is that our system of higher education costs too much, takes too long, and graduates too few.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

College-&-Retirement -- #1 of 4

Taken up in this blog:
  • Retirement Readiness
Taken up in successive blogs:
  • Paying Cash
  • Parent Borrowing
  • Social Security
RETIREMENT READINESS

In a Prudential Investments [http://www.prudential.com] study of American's preparations for retirement the facts revealed are
  • 80% of us claim that retirement is our top financial priority;
  • most surveyed adults gave themselves a grade of C or worse for their own preparation;
  • 40% claimed they have no idea how to better prepare;
  • 63% say investing is too confusing; and
  • well over half plan to work beyond retirement age, at least to supplement retirement income.
There are four questions, the answers to which everyone must know:
  1. For your nest egg to provide you with the standard of living you want, and still last your natural lifetime, what rate of return must you earn in your current retirement plan?
  2. For your nest egg to provide you with the standard of living you want, and still last your natural lifetime how much more do you need to be saving on a monthly or annual basis?
  3. For your nest egg to provide you with the standard of living you want, and still last your natural lifetime how many more years will you have to work?
  4. If you make no changes to your current retirement plan, by how much will you have to reduce your lifestyle so that your nest egg will last your natural lifetime?
Given that the number one fear of currently reitred Americans is that they will outlive their money, would you like to know your answers to those 4 questions? Contact me via the tab "Contact Us" -- top right corner.

Posted in College Planning Strategies, Retirement Planning.

Insights Gleaned from Top Economist

      Sarah Watt House
Economist at Wells Fargo Securities
 spoke this morning (January 19, 2017) at the Business Today Newsmakers Breakfast, Cornelius, NC. My interpolations from her insights include:

  • Be ever more careful and reluctant to borrow money to pay for college
  • By exploiting relaxed repayment plans, more students and parents are loan-current, but . . .
  • Employment outlook for college graduates is looking favorable.
Borrowing Be Reluctant
Federal Student Aid and the Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS Loan) are linked to the Treasury Bill rate. Inflation is rising, interest rates are rising, and each (more than likely) shall continue to rise. Although Federal loans are at a fixed interest rate, that rate is adjusted annually (linked to the T-Bill rate) for each new installment.

In other words, assuming you graduate in four years, you do so with four different loans, each carrying its own interest rate. As T-Bill rates rise, so will each, successive year's loan rate. If you enter college depending on borrowing as your primary means of paying, you may find yourself, financially, between-a-rock-and-a-hard-spot before you complete your degree.

I recommend that no parent use PLUS. If you do not see how you can send your child without that, please contact me. I may be able to help you discover alternatives (usually; but not always call me and let's talk).

Pros/Cons of Repayment Plans
According to Ms. House more students are utilizing the federal IBR (Income-Based Repayment) plans [https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/understand/plans/income-driven]. The upside is that your debt-service is more manageable, relating to your income. The down side is that, often, repayment is stretched out over many, many years. That impacts debt-to-income credit worthiness when you are seeking a loan for a major consumer purchase (house and car, in particular).

There are also possibilities for student loan forgiveness based on tightly defined public service jobs. Although an option, remember that any amount forgiven is 1099'd in the year forgiven, and creates a tax-obligation for which you may be unprepared. I know a woman who successfully applied for forgiveness of over $100, 000 (one hundred thousand!) in student debt. She was elated until, the following January, the 1099 came in the mail. Her income for the previous year jumped from under $30,000 to more than $130,000 with the consequent income tax due by April 15.

Employment Outlook
Sarah is confident that employment outlook for college graduates is good, and shall remain so, at least in 2017, if not beyond. Good news for sure!

My caveat to that is, depending on your degree and planned career, not all job markets are equal. At the breakfast where Sarah spoke I was sitting with a gentleman whose 11th grader was thinking of either a degree in business or a law degree. My advice to him was to check the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment forecasts for specific professions, trades and industries. If the family heeds my advice the choice of majors will be resolved, I feel confident.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

How to Prep for New SAT, ACT Writing Tests

Posted on  by WOW Writing Workshop http://www.wowwritingworkshop.com
By Jed Applerouth
Applerouth Tutoring Services

Jed Applerouth
Beginning this spring, students will need to flex their critical thinking and composition skills when they tackle the new writing sections on both the SAT and ACT. The SAT has been completely redesigned, and the ACT has made multiple updates. As a result, the essay sections for both tests are now completely different from what they looked like a year ago. They are more rigorous than prior versions, however, these tests better reflect the kind of writing assignments students will typically face in college.
To succeed on either writing test, students need to get the basics right first. They need to understand the formats for the new essay prompts, and know what the graders will be looking for in a student's response.
The SAT essay
The SAT essay writing exercise has been transformed from an opinion piece into an exercise in textual analysis and critical thinking; this is similar to exercises on certain AP exams. Students will be asked to read a short (600-700-word) persuasive passage and write an essay response that explains how the author develops and supports an argument.
It is irrelevant whether or not the student agrees with the author (the task of the old SAT essay); the student's task on the new test is to articulate how the author uses evidence, rhetorical devices and structure to support a claim. Students will be evaluated on three measures:
  • Reading of the provided text
  • Analysis of the text
  • Writing skills
To optimize their scores, students will need to:
  • Actively read the passage
  • Scour for evidence that supports the author's main argument
  • Use quotes that demonstrate they understand the author's argument
  • Write a structured, organized essay that stays on topic
  • Use smooth transitions between paragraphs
  • Have an introduction, body and conclusion
  • Use a variety of sentence structures
  • Skillfully use vocabulary
  • Write significantly longer essays
While longer essays typically generate higher scores, students will be evaluated on both the quality and the length of their essay. The College Board, which administers the SAT, has doubled the time (50 minutes!) allotted for the new essay, and will provide four pages (up from two) of paper to write.
The ACT essay
On the ACT's revamped essay, students will get 40 minutes to analyze and respond to three distinct perspectives on a topic that concerns a broad, national issue. Students will be asked to:
  • Analyze and evaluate the three given perspectives
  • State and develop their own perspective
  • Explain why they agree or disagree with the perspectives given
  • Support their ideas with logical reasoning
  • Support their idea with detailed, persuasive examples
Essays will be evaluated using four metrics:
  • Analysis
  • Development and support
  • Organization
  • Language use
To generate higher scores, students must take their critical thinking up a level to identify the overarching themes across the three perspectives. For instance, do the perspectives address tension between change and tradition, or between the needs of an individual versus that of the collective?
Graders want students to critically evaluate the logic of the perspectives, and also to identify errors, assumptions, and potential pitfalls. Students need to organize their essay, use words properly, pay attention to grammar, transition smoothly between paragraphs and vary the sentence structure.
Is the essay optional?
Both the SAT and ACT have now moved their essays to the end of their tests and made them optional. But some colleges might require a writing test. It's best for you to find out how a school uses the writing test in admissions before making the decision to not take it. We always encourage students to write the essay, even if they think their schools won't require it. We've seen too many students discover after taking the test without the writing section that their new stretch schools require the essay. The additional time spent to stay for the essay can save a student unnecessary stress and headaches down the road.
The new SAT and ACT essays raise the bar for critical thinking and analysis, allowing students a chance to show off their thinking and writing skills. Students aiming for a highly competitive essay score would benefit from timed practice with the new forms and corrective feedback. This will help identify strengths and weaknesses early, allowing students to make adjustments and go into the official test ready to hit their optimal score.
Jed Applerouth is the founder and CEO of Applerouth Tutoring Services, an education services company with offices in major metropolitan areas across the country. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Georgia State University, Jed is a Nationally Certified Counselor with a PhD in Educational Psychology. Since 2001, Jed and his team of educators have helped thousands of students across the country optimize their scores on the SAT, ACT, and other admissions tests

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

College Affordability -- the sooner you know, the better

Do you understand affordability? How much money, per year, can you lay out on college costs for your children?  What factors must you consider?  What can you do to bridge the gap?

  1. How much money per year can you lay out on college costs for your children?
    1. Know the actual costs per year.
    2. Colleges publish "Cost of Attendance" estimates.
    3. Cost of Attendance includes tuition, mandatory fees, dormitory rent, on-campus meals, books and supplies, travel costs to and from home, miscellaneous out-of-pocket expenses
    4. Without borrowing any money, how much of that total can you pull from your monthly cash flow?
  2. What factors must you consider?
    1. What is the anticipated college-costs inflation rate? The prices do tend to go up every couple of years.
    2. Never, never, never touch retirement funds to pay for college. That includes money already set aside, and monthly contributions from current income.
    3. There are four questions about retirement to consider, all determined by your current retirement funding plans.  Based on what you are doing now (err on the side of caution), for your money to last throughout your spouse's and your life expectancy:
      1. What Rate of Return must your accounts average?
      2. How many more years will retirement needs require you to work?
      3. How much more do you need to be saving monthly?
      4. By how much will you be forced to reduce your lifestyle in retirement?**
**if you think you can do that, why not start now and put those extra dollars into your retirement account?
 
3. What can you do to bridge the gap?
a. Every student is eligible for the Federal Student Aid program (college loans to the student for which the parents have no obligation).  The loan amounts top out at around $27,000 over four years (with some additional possible up to about $31,000 total).
b. Federal Pell Grants may be offered for students from lower income families.  Those are need-based grants-in-aid, not loans.
c. Draw on resources that present the lowest, possible risk. Some people go to home equity.  The risk is, should something happen to your income down the road, you could lose your home to foreclosure. Obviously, reducing current lifestyle expenses during the college years is the safest option (although not the most pleasant) to free-up extra cash.

Sometimes families are transferring wealth away unknowingly and unnecessarily.  We offer a no-obligation/no-charge audit to help you know.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies, Retirement Planning. Tagged as Cost of College; College Affordability;.

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