Don’t even start college unless you have a plan
The Monroe on a Budget column is in today’s edition of The Monroe Evening News:
If you have no idea what to study, do not sign up for college classes.
I know this goes against everything that high schoolers have been told for years, and even what parents often believe is the sensible choice. But when you look over the statistics of college degree completion and student loan debt, you’ll realize students and their families can no longer afford the expensive mistake of taking classes without a direction in place.
That includes the popular choice of starting at community college.
Without a plan, you’ll run out of available funding and / or rack up student debt, and might still have no degree.
Remember that college tuition, fees and textbooks are paid for by the credit hour, quarter term or semester. Living expenses while in college are paid for by the month or by the semester.
Now here are the statistics:
The Complete College America project has learned associate degree students are taking 3.8 years full-time and 5 years part-time to finish what should be a two-year program; and bachelor degree students are taking 4.7 years full-time and 5.6 years part-time to finish what should be a four-year program.
Researchers say part of the problem involves the logistics of juggling family and work responsibilities around college studies. But they also criticize a lack of academic direction that result in students taking too many unrelated classes, and question whether remedial efforts are helping at-risk students.
Another problem is specific classes might not count after a student changes plans. While I lost only three or four credit hours with a transfer and change in major; a student I spoke to last summer lost almost a year’s worth of credits when she did the same thing.
I also spoke with a mother a few years ago whose son missed a key sequence of classes for his degree. In order to schedule a class that was a prerequisite to later coursework, he had to add a semester to his timeline. There went the “savings” the family hoped to achieve by the son starting at community college before he transferred to university.
And consider these points:
- Many of the scholarships that Monroe County students earn are one-time awards in the $500 to $1,500 range.
- Federal Pell Grants for financially needy students now have a lifetime limit of the equivalent of six academic years.
- And 60 percent of the students in the graduation class of 2010 at Michigan schools left college with student debt.
Figure out what degree you want first, then sign up for the classes.