Monday, March 15, 2010

Georgia on my mind today

The cost of a college education has been on the minds of many recently. This morning, I saw a report about Georgia college students taking their complaints to the Gold Dome in Atlanta. Rightfully, students want lawmakers to see the people who will be impacted by their cuts.

I'm thinking about Georgia, because I'm a graduate of The University of Georgia and my immediate family remains there. I recently received an e-mail from the alumni association talking about past cuts and proposed cuts. The overall picture looks pretty grim as plans include reducing the freshman class, faculty, staff and programs.

Colleges all across the country are facing similar problems. The economy is still in recovery which means that tax collections are down. If state officials can't make their budgets, something has to give. This is where the human toll begins. Some universities are having to take a hard look at programs, fees and tuition costs. Georgians are lucky that lottery funds pay for some tuition costs. Lottery funds don't pay for all the costs associated with education, so this could mean that some students may have to drop out until it becomes more affordable.

I began thinking about college costs recently, because my husband and I are expecting a baby. We put a small amount into a college fund for our son. We aren't even close to the amount suggested to fully fund the account to pay for a college education in 18 years.

Some parents have told me that funding anything at this point may be a bad idea or worse — make me bitter. Yes, I was scratching my head, too. It turns out, parents who plan (i.e. create and put money into college accounts for their children) often get bitter when they see how not planning for college results in free money — scholarships, federal assistance and grants.

When I went to college some two decades ago, there was no trust fund or money set aside to pay for school. My twin sister and I applied for scholarships, grants, financial aid and received minimal student loans to fund our education. We worked part-time at school and at home to pay for the extras.

It seems normal for many students to leave college these days with a diploma in one hand and a student loan debt in the other. I've heard from graduates with minimal debt — under $10,000 — to those reaching $40,000 and beyond. The student loan debt often surpasses the recent graduate's first year salary, if he or she can find a job.

Bitterness is also at work for those who repay their student loans. I'm not sure how people do it, but some people apparently do not repay their student loan debt.

Higher education isn't the only area taking a hit in this economy. Last week, there was story after story about communities closing city and county schools, firing teachers and increasing classroom sizes. Schools are finding they can't operate like they have in the past. They have to do things differently.

While I cringe at all the changes (some good and some bad), I can't figure out what the alternative is. We all want our government to cut costs, but we don't want those costs to impact the economy, health care, education, children or the elderly.

I can't figure out a way around. No money seems to clearly equal a cancellation of some services.

We want it all, but I don't think that's possible. Many of us have already looked at the reset button and hit it. We've had to adjust or alter our plans, because the economy and our bank accounts didn't make it possible. Some goals have had to be put on hold. State funded education systems need to do the same thing and move forward in the best way possible in this economy.

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