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 4 Year Myth -- a true story

I had planned to write more from the Complete College America's white paper, but . . .

yesterday I was on the soccer field with a young man who went off to one of America's top engineering universities after his graduation from a Charlotte Mecklenburg public high school. I asked if he graduated in four years or five. "Six" was his answer. 6 -- six -- twelve semesters -- and this is a bright, responsible, industrious individual (my esteem for him, having known him for eight years or more). Another young man who was with us, and is currently a senior at an area high school, responded, "Yeah, engineering is a five-year degree, I hear."

There's a problem (my opinion) when students enter college with a defined notion that 4 years to a degree is unrealistic. I promise you, the university in question lays out a four year program. Why didn't my friend, therefore, complete his degree in the prescribed four years (eight semesters)?

  1. Uncertainty as to his major upon entering
  2. Required classes that filled up and forced his hand to wait until subsequent semesters
  3. Too many electives
  4. A decision ahead of time that he would not, could not and, therefore, will not finish in four.
The young adult I reference is no slouch. He just bought into the story line that "it doesn't make a difference how long it takes, just so long as you earn your degree."

Here's what it cost him:
Bottom line? $220,000 is what his "Four Year Degree" cost him -- not $80,000 (as advertised).



Posted in College Planning, Wealth Creation Strategies.

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.

Gately offers Invocation for Maryland Senate



Pictured are Maryland State Senator Michael Hough, Mrs. JoeyLynn Hough and Rev. Dr. George Gately. Mike invited me to offer the invocation for the Senate of Maryland Friday, February 17, 2017. It was my pleasure and honor to do so.

Mike is my cousin. His great-grandfather, Stanley Gately, was my father's brother. Stanley was killed in battle in September, 1944, Germany. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Following his death my father and mother took in his daughter Regina "Jean" Gately, and raised her until her 18th birthday; at which time she attained employment and moved out on her own. Jean married Earl Dilley, and they brought three children into this world -- Catherine, David and Beth. Beth is Michael's mother.

Here is a transcript of the Invocation:
ALMIGHTY GOD, we address you this morning from the common ground of our faith and dependence on you. Giver of life and all good things, we acknowledge your providential care and benevolence; and we do so with thankful hearts.
 
First, as we are admonished to do, we give thanks for our nation and those who lead us in government. May they be conscious of the benefits of faith and prayer, and may they each and all draw faithfully upon that wisdom which is from on high: first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.  And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
 
We also give thanks and lift up to you those who serve this sovereign and good State of Maryland.

  • Governor Larry Hogan,
  • his cabinet and staff;
  • Senate President Mike Miller and Pro Tem Nathaniel McFadden;
  • the leaders of each party Senators Peters and Jennings.
  • Blessings upon them each and all, and upon each person who serves as a Maryland State Senator today.
 
Our prayer of gratitude and for mercy is made also on behalf of the Staff of the Senate, and in particular those who labor here year-round and keep this government running well. We also include those who serve in often unnoticed ways, but without whom our work would grind to a halt -- those who serve in maintenance and security and clerical positions.
 
Setting aside our partisan differences for this moment of unity in your presence, merciful God, we ask that you give us wisdom with compassion in these tumultuous days of strong opinions. We ask that you help us balance
  • public safety and security with mercy;
  • fiscal stewardship with mindfulness of the poor and destitute;
  • strong, informed points of view with a spirit of understanding and unity.
 
You are God Almighty, and you are the author of our lives. We close this petition for your grace with this: every Senator is also a member of a family. They love their families and their families love them. We pray for the health, the safety and the general well-being of each Senator and each senator's family.
 
Dear God, thank you for your presence among us, for listening with a mind to answer, and for the gift of life which has been imparted to us through your own Spirit. Amen.

College-&-Retirement -- #4 of 4

Taken up in this blog:

  • Social Security
Previous blogs in this series:
  • Retirement Readiness
  • Paying cash -- is it always best?
  • Parent borrowing -- it costs more than you may think
Can the federal government seize your social security benefit to satisfy delinquent education loans?
Yes, your social security benefit can be, and will be reduced in order to satisfy a delinquent education loan balance.

There is another interesting survey-based indication that, across three generations from baby-boomers to millenials, people indicate they plan to continue working in their retirement years. Fifty-percent and more say they do not look forward to idleness as part of old age. They want to work. The follow-up question is, however, do you want to have that choice, or do you want to be forced to continue working in order to make ends meet?

Social Security is not a retirement income. However, for those who plan well, that universal benefit does provide an irreducible minimum, a floor if you will, and a hedge against inflation for a diminishing nest egg as the years roll on.

A "must-know" fact for parents and grandparents who are borrowing money, or co-signing loans to help fund their children's educations, is that most of those loans are federal guaranteed. What that means is the federal government can, and will attach your assets, including your Social Security benefits in order to satisfy the debt.

Succeed Where It Counts, Inc. advises against borrowing for college, beyond the Federal Student Aid opportunity. FSA loans are limited to $27,000 over the course of undergraduate studies (that ceiling may rise by an additional $4,500 for some students). For students who earn their degrees, and who secure employment in a career-quality job, that is manageable -- in the $250-$300 per month range, depending on the interest rates.

And that brings us to another subject -- student debt and the expectation of loan forgiveness -- for our next blog.


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

College-&-Retirement -- #3 of 4

February 22, 2017

Taken up in this blog:
  • Parent borrowing
Taken up in the upcoming 4th blog:
  • Social Security
Previous blogs in this series:
  • Retirement Readiness
  • Paying cash -- is it always best?
Loans to pay for the costs of college, for many people, seem an inevitable choice. There are two, common sources of loans that involve parents and/or grandparents.
  • PLUS
  • SallieMae
PLUS is the acronym for Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students. As with the Stafford Loan program which is a loan directly to the student, PLUS is federally guaranteed with an interest rate tied to the T-Bill. For the current school year, that rate is 6.31%. The loan origination fee is 4.276%.

SallieMae loans are often co-signed by the student and parent or grandparent. Although no loan fee is charged, interest rates are variable and approach 10%.

Either way the loan is offered based on credit-worthiness, and shows on future credit reports. PLUS and SallieMae loans begin accruing interest upon disbursement. Repayment forbearance is available upon application and approval, but the interest continues to accrue and capitalizes into the balance due on the loan anniversary.

What does that look like in real life? Take a family with two children. The parents are on the hook for $50,000 for each child (either PLUS or as co-signers on SallieMae). Let's assume SallieMae offers the same 6.31% as PLUS (just to keep the math simple). After ten years the $100,000 principle plus interest = $184,392. 

Let's say those parents were 45 when they took the loans to pay for college for the kids. Had they paid that $100,000 into their retirement accounts, netting a modest 5% (five and not 6.31) per annum, by their 75th birthday they would have an additional $432,000 for those later retirement years.

That number ($432,000) is called Opportunity Cost. It is, in fact, the true cost of paying for your children's college education.

Is that really what you want to do?

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

College-&-Retirement -- #2 of 4

Taken up in this blog:
  • Paying cash -- is it always best?
Taken up in successive blogs:
  • Parent borrowing
  • Social Security
Previous blogs in this series:
  • Retirement Readiness
Few people stop to think and realize that paying cash and borrowing are, in fact, both forms of financing a purchase. Paying cash is nothing less than self-financing.
Here's a specific illustration using the Federal Student Loan program as an example.
  • Parent "I don't want my child graduating with debt. Therefore, I will pay the costs of college."
  • Stafford Loan privileges = $27,000 over four years ($5,500, $6,500, $7,500, $7,500) @ 3.76% p.a.
  • Repayment amortized over 10 years.
  • Assuming you can earn 3.76% on your money, if you pay cash and thereby give up that principle plus the accumulating, compounding interest, over 10 years you will realize a cost of $39,054. If your student takes the Stafford Loan and repays over 10 years, the sum of the repayments equals $39,054.
  • In addition, by taking advantage of the Stafford Loan, you keep control over your money; you have the cash to pay off the balance owed at any time, and your student creates a positive credit history.
  • Obviously, if you can earn more than 3.76% on your money then borrowing makes even more sense. You are leveraging your cash to create wealth.
The single most important tool in wealth creation is to take advantage of uninterrupted, compounding interest. If interest rates are favorable to borrowing, then paying cash is less advantageous than it appears on the surface.
"Debt free" is the mantra of a money talking entertainer heard on radio stations across the land. What the talk-radio host fails to disclose is this fact: there is a difference between a debt and a loan.
  • Debt = a financial obligation which is not offset by collateral of equal or greater value, and which can be discharged only from future earnings.
  • Loan = a leveraged position using collateral to retain access, use and control of your cash. A loan, balanced by collateral of equal or greater value, can be satisfied on any given day. Amortization is a tool to retain access, use and control of your cash; or to perhaps even gain wealth through more favorable rates of growth than the loan rates cost.
Remember: you finance every purchase you make. You either pay cash and lose the interest you could have earned, or you borrow at the same or lesser interest and leverage your cash position. Given the relatively low interest rates of Stafford Loans, those should be considered as an option for college expenses. We can help you with the math. 

Posted in College Planning, Retirement Planning, Wealth Creation 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.

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