Community College: Genius Move

Sarah Naughten, Sports Editor

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As I, along with my senior peers, stagger to the end of college application season, I can’t help but notice that many of us have been obsessed with getting into what we have been conditioned to view as the “right” type of college: a 4-year, out-of-state, private university with brick buildings and 20% (or lower) acceptance rate.

We are infatuated with the brand name institutions that our parents or older siblings attended and oftentimes fail understand the financial strain choosing such schools may have on our families. According to financial planning company Value Penguin, the average cost of a private 4-year college is $50,900 per year while the average cost of a public in-state 4-year college is $25,290 per year.

Debt is a growing problem for Americans looking to earn a college education. According to the Federal Reserve, 41% of those who complete education beyond high school acquire at least some debt in the process.

Although Moraga is generally viewed as an affluent community comprised of wealthy families, the truth is that not everyone who lives in this area can afford the expenses associated with a college education.

Many students view taking out student loans as an easy remedy to the obscene cost of the private-school experience. However, few of us comprehend the ditch in which these loans will leave us following graduation.  Our future beyond college is just an abstraction.

The reality, of course, is that loan debt may undermine the benefit of a degree from that fancy, top-tier university.

We must realize the impact these loans will have on the rest of our lives and factor this future cost into our current college decision making. Simply choosing to attend a college based on its perceived prestige without consideration for the financial burden it will impose is dangerous.

Physics teacher and former stockbroker David Talcott believes educating students about the consequences of taking on student loan debt is important. “An 18-year-old has really no concept of what a 400k loan is and how it could cost them millions of dollars at the back end of that,” he said.

College counselor Joan Batcheller agrees. “I think it is twofold in that [students] don’t understand what a loan looks like and that their hearts are happy that [they] got into an expensive school,” she said.

“At 18, you want what you want and you don’t care what that looks like later,” Batcheller added in reference to student ignorance when it comes to calculating the actual, long-term cost of student loans.

According to Citizens Financial Group, Inc., “College graduates aged 35 and under with student loans now are spending nearly one-fifth (18 percent) of their current salaries on student loan payments and that 60 percent now expect to be paying off student loans into their 40s.”

I realize that for many people loans are a necessary evil. However, there are strategies that can be employed in order to minimize the amount of debt a student accumulates.

A wise solution for students who want that idealized, private-school experience without breaking the bank is to start their college journey at a 2-year institution like Diablo Valley College.

The cost of attending a local community college is drastically lower than that of attending a 4-year school. In fact, as of August 2018, all campuses in the Contra Costa Community College District offered free tuition for 1st-year full-time students that meet certain requirements.  This could potentially cut the total expense of a college degree by nearly 50%.

Additionally, the 2 years that students spend in a community college provides them with an opportunity to discover themselves and the academic pathways to which they are best suited, without financial pressure.  There are plenty of examples of Campolindo students diving into expensive 4-year colleges only to drop out after discovering they were not ready, or that the school or major was not actually the right fit.  When this happens, there are no refunds.

On the other hand, attending a community college can open the door to universities for which students may have not qualified straight out of high school.  In addition to saving money, a school like Diablo Valley College can increase students’ options, allowing them to choose from a wider range of 4-year possibilities.  And with the cash they’ve saved, they just might enjoy the remainder of their college experience at one of those top-tier schools without the financial burden or the guilt of knowing they forced their parents into poverty.

According to Talcott, Campolindo would benefit from creating “an environment where it is okay to look at community college or it is okay to stay at home.”

While we celebrate those students who are committing to Stanford and Harvard, we might also want to give props to students exercising their better judgement, dare I say, their superior intellect, as they put off instant gratification for the long-term reward of financial stability and self discovery by attending a community college.

Go Vikings!