When I left for the University of Missouri in the fall of 1978, I was the first one in my family to attend college. I didn’t think much of it at the time; I simply knew that I wanted to continue my education. Since then, many others in my family have gone to college and have earned one or more degrees.
Nowadays, a college education seems like the regular course for most high school graduates and indeed is even required in much of the workplace. The question isn’t will you go to college but rather, where.
In our country, 79% of high school graduates enroll in college by the age of 20. By age 26, 88% of high school graduates have enrolled in either a two or four year college. The number one reason for not attending college is “not having the money” followed by “already having a good job”.
College Decision Day is every May 1st and many high schools have adopted the tradition of having everyone wear a tee shirt that day from the college they will be attending. I can’t help wondering how the students with no college plans might feel that day. Do they wear a shirt with their high school name on it and “the end”?
I once asked my mom why she didn’t go to college, and she told me that it really wasn’t an option for girls in the late 1950’s unless they wanted to be a teacher or a nurse. Since she wasn’t interested in either of those careers, she didn’t consider college for herself.
My father joined the army after high school and got to live in Okinawa Island, Japan and received a whole different kind of education.
In 1960 when my mom and dad would have been in college, there were 758,000 undergraduate college students in the United States and the average tuition cost was around $800.
When my brothers and I were growing up, it was an ongoing expectation in our home that we would all go to college. My parents didn’t really know how to help us prepare for this, but we were all encouraged to work hard at our studies and to earn good grades.
By the end of my senior year of high school, my parents and I had been able to muddle through all the paperwork and deadlines that go along with the college-bound student.
As the date of my departure drew near, I was given a credit card to my dad’s account with strict orders that it was only to be used in the event of an emergency. And, he said, paying off my clothing layaways at the local mall did NOT constitute an emergency.
I was also told that they would like me to call home and check in at least once a week. Phone cards didn’t exist then and I was taught how to make a “collect” phone call to my parent’s landline phone number. This later became a Sunday afternoon ritual, and I would walk half a block to a phone booth so I could have more privacy while talking with my parents.
Since I was going to college out of state, I was able to take my car as a freshman. In late August, my parents and brothers and I caravanned all the way to Columbia, Missouri using two cars with CB radios for communication. Remember, this was 37 years ago before we all had cell phones in our pockets.
For those of you who may not know, CB or Citizens Band radios were a system for short-distance radio communication between people, and were widely used by long haul truck drivers. The radios had 40 channels on the band with channel 19 being the one most frequently used. The channels were shared by many people and were used for both business and pleasure.
Jeff Hull still has his CB cell phone of the 70’s!
We drove the 500 miles to my new home and I began college life, which incidentally involved writing for the Missouri Maneater student newspaper, and the following year after I transferred to Purdue in Indiana, the Purdue Exponent. I earned five cents per word writing for college newspapers!
In 1978, there were 1.6 million students attending a four year college or university in the United States. Starting in 1974, more girls than boys attended college and this trend has continued without fail through 2015.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, the average undergraduate cost of tuition, room and board at a four year university for the 1978 – 1979 school year was $2967.
I paid for my schooling with the help of part-time jobs, summer jobs, and student loans. My loans came from First National Bank in my hometown of Elkhart, Indiana. The loan officer answered all my questions while explaining that the bank was investing in my future. I was granted four loans with just a signature and a handshake. I cringed at the amount of money I borrowed each year and wondered if I would spend the rest of my life paying it back.
Recently while cleaning out some folders in my desk, I came across my Indiana Guaranteed Student Loan Program Repayment paperwork. According to the paperwork, I borrowed a total of $9000 during my college years…$2000 to $2500 each year. It doesn’t seem like quite as big an amount as it did back then! And yes, I paid those loans back…120 payments of $104.50 for ten years. The day I made the last payment, my husband and I went out for a celebratory dinner.
In 2014, the average annual undergraduate cost of tuition, fees, room and board at a four year university was $15,640 at public institutions and $40,614 at private ones. My how times have changed!
Approximately 17 million students are attending American undergraduate colleges and universities this fall, and colleges are expected to award 1.8 million bachelor’s degrees during the 2015 -2016 school year.
According to the May 8, 2015 Wall Street Journal, 71% of bachelor’s degree recipients this year will have at least one student loan. The average 2015 graduate with student-loan debt will have to pay back just over $35,000.
Three of our four children are now college graduates. Each of them was fortunate to make it through their undergraduate years without student loan debt. As higher education costs continue to rise, that may not be the case with our fourth child who is still in school.
I cannot imagine what college will cost for future generations and I wonder how people will even be able to afford to go. I did hear recently that student loan debt can be forgiven for teachers who teach in low income schools for five years and for those who work in certain occupations such as public service jobs. (For more information on this, check out the website at studentaid.ed.gov and look under “How to repay your loans”.)
College costs actually went down slightly in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s so perhaps they will decrease again.
My advice to parents today is to start saving for college as soon as your child is born. You may not have enough to cover the full cost of a college education, but every dollar will certainly help and will be an investment in your child’s future!
Author’s note: Thank you to my friend, Kourtney, for the idea for this blog post!