Fault for broken college dreams & soaring debt falls on families, schools and state

Jessica D. Johnson is founder of the Scholarship Academy, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income/first-generation families create college funding plans and increase their eligibility for private scholarship funds. She serves on the GEAR UP Georgia (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program) leadership team and the Atlanta Youth Commission.

In this column, Johnson discusses a three-part series, Debt Without Degree, produced by the Hechinger Report in collaboration with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The recent series examined college costs, student debt and HOPE Scholarships in Georgia.

You can read the first story on the untapped HOPE Scholarship surplus here. You can read the second story here about the impact of college costs and debt on students and the state. You can read the third story here about college affordability in Georgia.

By Jessica D. Johnson

For Georgia’s college students, this week is the traditional add/drop period, or, as I like to refer to it, “Raise enough money to keep your classes from being purged” week.

Over the last few weeks, the Hechinger “Debt Without Degree” series in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has profiled students who have fallen through the financial aid cracks, and who are making life-altering decisions about whether or not to stay in college or drop out because they simply can’t come up with the money to meet expenses.

While the stories may have shocked some, the realities of the student stories ring all too familiar for the Georgia college counselors and families struggling to keep their students enrolled.

As a national scholarship expert and executive director of the Scholarship Academy, a nonprofit that helps students secure private scholarships, I dread answering my phone at the beginning of each semester because I know I’ll hear pleas from scores of Georgia students desperately looking for urgent help to meet financial aid gaps. At some universities, balances as low as $250 will get students purged from the system before the first day of class. At private institutions, students with an unpaid $1,500 balance could be sent home by mid-terms.

With the rising tuition and fees at state institutions, the shifts in HOPE eligibility and funding levels, and the absence of a much-debated statewide need-based aid program, it is time to admit Georgia is in the crux of a financial aid crisis. If the intangible losses of more than 5,000 students dropping out of Georgia’s four-year institutions in a three-year span in large part due to funding won’t get our attention, perhaps the financial losses will. According to the American Institute for Research, college dropouts cost our nation $4.5 billion in lost income and taxes.

It would be easy to point the blame at legislators who have neglected to allocate HOPE reserves or activate a statewide need-based scholarship program. As an advocate of financial aid accountability, I would argue none of the proposed solutions alone can solve our state’s college funding shortages. The reality is that everyone is at fault.

Families should do more research on four-year financial feasibility before making a college choice. Far too many families wait until it’s too late, and let the financial aid process happen to them, instead of proactively making financial aid work for them.

College advisors must stop the cookie-cutter approach to college admissions: laser-focusing on college admission numbers and relying on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid  or FAFSA as the primary financial aid support. Low-income and first-generation students need individualized supports to map out a realistic college funding plan before they enroll.

Universities have a responsibility to be transparent about unpaid balances that would cause them to drop students from their enrollment.  An easy step in the right direction would be addressing the policies regarding outside scholarships so that they don’t inadvertently penalize students by reducing university aid.

To be fair, there are a host of colleges such as Georgia State that offer Panther Retention Grants to support students’ financial matriculation, and many schools, such as Atlanta Technical College, have established hardship funds that award students up to a thousand dollars toward their expenses to alleviate financial burdens.

The truth is, there’s no one solution to college financing in Georgia, but as a new wave of families begin to click “submit” next month on those complicated financial aid forms for the 2018-2019 school year, more than the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is at stake. We’ve all got to do our part to make some sense of this college dollars dilemma.

 

Reader Comments 0

38 comments
USA&UK;,,JOBS
USA&UK;,,JOBS

like April answered I am in shock that a student can get paid $9445 in one month on the 

computer . see more...♪♪♪♥♪♪♪ _a_ ♪♪♪♥♪♪♪.♪♪♪♥♪♪♪ .www.Google.Start.Money.com

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

Georgia taxpayers are already paying millions to fund undergraduate and graduate education for young adults. Working taxpayers don't owe you or your kids a college education or livelihood; you aren't paying my bills, now are you?

Last required class in high school should [must] be Adult 101: Don't make economic choices you aren't prepared to live with. Throw in some basic cost-benefit analysis for good measure. College is an economic choice (emphasis on choice), going into debt to attend college is a choice. Make your choices and live with them, otherwise you are failing the required life courses of adulthood and personal responsibility.

E Pluribus Unum
E Pluribus Unum

Many people have mentioned community college

as an avenue to graduate college without debt,but

the amount of time spent obtaining a degree

without earning money in a career should also

be factored into the equation.If it takes a person

an extra year, or two years to transfer out of 

a community college(Difficulty in getting required 

courses), lost annual income should also be factored

 (You may have saved $20,000 in debt only to pass up

 annual income of $40 K plus per year if it takes you  

 extra semesters to transfer. The government should

invest in students (Pell Grants/Scholarships etc.).


gapeach101
gapeach101

We talked to another couple in the same financial situation we were in back in 2010 and one of them explained it to me.  Kids truly don't know the difference between coming out of college with $5,000 of debt or $50,000.  The are both big numbers and they don't have either.  

I was really nervous when one of my children was accepted at CalTech and was offered $25,000 per year.  She would have come out with $80,000 of debt, which she thought was acceptable for a degree from CalTech.  Thank goodness cooler heads  (and more money from Yale) prevailed. 

Beery
Beery

So, if you click on the link that says something like "You can read the first story in this series here," the first thing you can read after clicking is the caption under the picture. The caption says "The create of Zell Miller scholarships in 2011 helped Georgia’s best students by paying their full tuition."

That really makes you want to read the article, doesn't it?.

The date of the article is early August, and it still has not been corrected.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident, but has become the norm.

The decline in quality of journalism is simply amazing.

And, more importantly, it is not just the poor writing and lack of proofreading that is troubling.

What's worse is that there are are almost no outlets that simply just report the news.

It seems that all of the major news sources, on both sides of the political spectrum, are so biased that it can be truly unpleasant to read the "news" articles (or listen to the "news" reporters).

But, companies exist to make money, so what sells is a just a reflection of the people buying it, right?



RashedeHageman
RashedeHageman

I schooled a young lady that had some disrespectful words to me last year - now I'm suspended.  They need to teach young women more respect in the schools.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

I was able to help my kids through college paying cash and with them working to contribute, it took a little longer but they came out the other side with no debt. My only Grandson decided he did not want to go to college but learn a job skill set so he attended a American Welding Society approved school and got all his certifications all while we and his parents paid cash, he was recruited out of the school when he finished by a Major railroad company starting at 51K a year plus benefits, we are not wealthy people, it can be done  

The TAIKI
The TAIKI

As I have said before, "They finance a life style now, not just tuition". They graduate with a sociology degree and go to work making $22,000 a year with a $50,000 student loan that they can't make the payments. Limits are needed on the loans.

Beach Bound2020
Beach Bound2020

@The TAIKI I completely agree with you.  Colleges LOVE the 6 year undergraduate and do nothing to advise students who are taking classes all over the place with no degree plan in place.  They love the extra years of tuition and take no accountability for racking up students debt when they can easily see AND advise students at the first sign of digression from a degree.  Further, they offer expensive comforts - gourmet food, pools at dorms, etc that an undergrad does not need but must be paid for.  The undergrad experience at most colleges is far more luxurious then most Gen Xs were ever able to afford before 30. Fault is shared but it is out of hand and will catch up with all of us.

Magyymae
Magyymae

I started college in 1968 and graduated in 1972. I was able to put myself through college with a minimum wage job and a very small student loan. My 2 young adult children have huge student loan debt.

If minimum wage had kept pace with inflation we would not have students struggling like this! It's just wrong and it's not only students who are affected!

gapeach101
gapeach101

@Magyymae Minimum wage is not the culprit in this particular equation-- its the price of tuition that has increased at a far greater rate than could be reasonably expected.  I believe it's second only to medical costs.

TheCentrist
TheCentrist

If you earned a public high school diploma in 1980, and did not keep up with current events, you would flunk the fifth grade.  For example, since 1980 there have been 10 elements added to the periodic table.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

@TheCentrist So? school prepares you " to learn " 90% of your career experience comes AFTER you enter the work force

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

Most of the comments here seem so old-fashioned, based as they are upon the posters' own dated experiences that just aren't true any more. 

The great majority of college students have to have some part-time job, a big reason why 6 years is now the benchmark for graduation. They can't get through college by working at minimum-wage jobs any more (which also now have many people over 40 competing to get them).  Students who may have gotten through high school easily as dfb suggests get a very rude awakening very quickly during their first term of college. And finally, state colleges raise their tuition rates to cover the costs of higher student enrollments but lower funding allocations from the state legislature.

redweather
redweather

@OriginalProf I worked my way through undergrad and grad school, but it wasn't all that difficult to do back in the 1980s. And I was not making a ton of money by any stretch. 

For an in-state resident to attend GSU and live in a dorm the annual cost is over $21,000.  Even when subtracting room and board, it's still a little over $13,000. Perhaps when adjusting for inflation this is no different than the 1980s, but I doubt it.

kaelyn
kaelyn

HOPE reduces tuition by a great deal, and Zell brings it to zero. Many students with high school GPAs below 3.0 would be better served starting out at community colleges, where they can get their feet wet and develop good study habits. The cost of college really is not out of reach if students and parents educate themselves and make smart choices. That doesn't mean everyone can afford to go to Emory or live on campus at UGA, but that's life.

redweather
redweather

@kaelyn The HOPE scholarship is great, just don't let your GPA drop below 3.0. Takes a while to get it back.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

@OriginalProf One of the main reason college cost is what it is today are easy money loan programs and things like HOPE, college administrators see all that money for the taking so their salaries and retirement can be funded so its " Hey Students the line for free money starts here "  

kaelyn
kaelyn

@redweather You must be spying on me because those are the EXACT words I told my son as we left his freshman dorm a few weeks ago. His father reminded him "there's a reason it's called a SCHOLARship."

Astropig
Astropig

@Infraredguy @OriginalProf 

You kind of put your finger right on the problem with rising college costs.What all of this easy money is doing creating inflation,as the supply of money is increasing much,much faster than college capacity to absorb new students.There are simply more students that can pay than there is the ability to accommodate them. Something has to give,and that something is price.

This is obvious to everyone from wife bartering savages in the tropics to Gordon Gekko-types on Wall Street,but libs can't grasp it.Their hateful worldview requires a devil to blame this purely economic phenomenon on,and it's just too easy to blame "the legislature","the governor" or anyone else that understands basic economics.


Fortunately,these economic dolts do understand enough to get some kind of job every now and again,and they make those of us that understand supply and demand very prosperous.

redweather
redweather

@kaelyn And that was very good advice. I hope your son heeds your words.

irishmafia1116
irishmafia1116

It is the entitled mentality that so many grow up with. No taxpayers are not here to pay for your education, Pell grants should go away. There are many many ways for you to pay/finance your own education. AND not everyone should be in college. It is or should be for the best and brightest, nowadays even a graduate degree has lost it's luster since so many people have "earned" the dubious degree. 

TheCentrist
TheCentrist

@irishmafia1116  Those who complain that taxpayers shouldn't help fund higher education are the same ones who complain that better-educated immigrants whose governments paid for their education are taking Americans' jobs.

dawgfacedboy
dawgfacedboy

It's everyone's fault. It's the state's fault for taking away tech diplomas and making everyone on a gen ed/college pathway. People want to bash participation trophies (by the way, i have a room full of "participation trophies" from the 80s. This is nothing new) but a HS diploma is just that. If you can't graduate high school then you never went to school or did absolutely nothing while you were there. You have to try to not graduate. They have credit recovery labs, night school, online schools, etc.  But hey, 98% graduation rates sound awesome, don't they?!?!? Kids are beyond unprepared for college. Colleges aren't going to give out grades, let you take tests over, turn in stuff months late, etc. Parents can't email and get their baby's schedule changed because they don't like the teacher. It's ridiculous. Teachers pass the kids because their is more work and stress put on the teacher if the kid fails. Constant contact with parents, extra paperwork has to be filled out, they have to document everything, offer recovery assignments, etc. It's not worth the hassle. All of these special snowflakes are not college material. It's harder to get in to college these days because EVERYONE is graduating and applying to the same schools!!!


But we wouldn't want to hurt these special snowflakes' feelings by telling them they are lazy/morons so we pass them and let them fall on their face when they get to college and realize they are not Kansas anymore. All while hiking tuition prices!!!

Love2Teach2
Love2Teach2

@dawgfacedboy  This is the truth! At my school the teachers were mandated to give remediation and retests for all assessments. The amount of work is staggering!  We have a parent that insists on retests even for a 99! 

Beach Bound2020
Beach Bound2020

@dawgfacedboy Yep - I see it everyday.  No high school teacher will ever give below a B now. Why put up with the extra teacher work. Never understood why the teacher of a failing HS student has to do more work then the student.  I can hear the snowflakes' parents on the phone to the colleges in 6 weeks, "but I don't understand why my child is failing at your college, he got A's every year in high school."  SMH

MissDaisyCook
MissDaisyCook

The government needs to get out of the loan guaranteeing business.  If the schools and lenders didn't know that any risky loan they give would be paid back by Uncle Sam, maybe they wouldn't give out money so freely.  

kaelyn
kaelyn

To begin with, the emotional aspect of college has to be put behind the practical realities. Much like real estate agents tell their clients there's no point in looking at houses out of their price range, the same goes for colleges. Living at home instead of the dorm, going to community college first, and choosing public over private will all save tens of thousands of dollars.

In the absence of common sense parents or guardians, high schools should be mandated to discuss college financing. Sadly, counselors in too many high needs schools devote very little time to anything beyond getting students out of the doors.

MissDaisyCook
MissDaisyCook

@kaelyn

Very good commons sense approach; I like it.  Also, how about only lending money for a degree that will actually have a chance of earning the student an income?

Moreofthesame
Moreofthesame

@kaelyn Sadly there are not enough counselors in school to provide the financial advice that is needed.  They barely have time to support the college application process. 

redweather
redweather

It would be interesting to know how our state government is "using" the $500 million dollar lottery surplus because you know it is. Perhaps such information would be subject to an Open Records Act request?

Astropig
Astropig

@redweather

No need for a FOIA request-the info is in this report-


http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/georgia-students-drop-high-debt-despite-state-surplus/



The money is in a reserve fund.This is simply sound fiscal management.It ensures that the fund won't go broke the next time the economy falls out of bed.The state could up the benefit structure in the here and now and thus make a lot of people (like yourself,for instance) happy in the short run,much as Christmas Day makes little tots happier for a while.


But wouldn't it make more sense to save a surplus to ensure the programs long term viability for a greater number of students? Don't economic downturns have a disproportionate effect on poorer people-the very slice of the population that plays the lottery the most,thus making its funding across an economic cycle problematic when things go bad?

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

I don't buy this sob story. The fault lies with the person who got themselves into debt, not their family, the school, or the state. At age 18 the law considers a college student an adult, so start adulthood by behaving as an adult. If the financial path forward is not crystal clear and positive, get counseling from family members and others before signing any obligation.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

We've blogged about this many times, but there are numerous ways a student can attend college and exit debt free.

You don't HAVE to go off to the university the first two years.  Attend a local community college, live with Mom and Dad, and work a part time job.  Thousands and thousands of students take that approach each year.

Get a job with a major corporation.  Work in the proverbial "mail room" while attending college part time utilizing the company's education reimbursement program.  Many, many large corporations have such a program for the benefit of their employees.

For that matter, work full time and go to college on a part time basis.  Yes, it will take you several years longer to graduate, but you will most likely be better off financially than incurring huge student loans.

Most schools have Co-op programs.  Get paid.  Get experience. Make valuable work contacts for the day you graduate.


Or, you can believe all the hype about college graduates making "millions" more in their lifetimes, sign up for worthless degree programs, sign up for crippling debt, and complain when the student loan bills come due and you're flipping hamburgers.

Astropig
Astropig

@Lee_CPA2 What you say is true,but it's probably going to fall on a lot of deaf ears. I've read too many comments in this space over the years about how valuable the "university experience" is to Buffy or Biff Snowflake (not their real names) to enroll them in a perfectly good JuCo and make good students out of them as well as allow them to mature as a person before taking on the financial burden of university.


A lot of these folks think that the taxpayers should pay all of the costs, while Buffy and Biff get the lions share of the benefits of that degree.God forbid that they actually make a financial plan for an event 18 years in the making.


The legislature never has to worry about mobs at the capitol demanding lower spending on everybody's pet entitlement,so they have to prioritize.Hard to believe,I know,but true.Knowing this,it's irresponsible to not save something for your kids post secondary education.

alt-ajc3
alt-ajc3

@Lee_CPA2 

The education establishment is pushing for a new entitlement: free tertiary education funded entirely by the taxpayers. That's why the blog keeps promoting it.

If the editor was instead in the pocket of automakers we'd be reading maudlin accounts of people buying wildly expensive and impractical vehicles -- but losing them to repossession.

And we'd likewise be asked to feel somehow responsible for their folly.