The college admissions and financial aid headlines are littered with stories about elite colleges; Harvard’s law suit, Stanford’s adjustments to financial aid calculations, UT Austin’s endowment surpassing Yale, and Bloomberg’s mega donation to John Hopkins. While trying to take all this in, I think; how does this affect the typical high school senior planning to attend college? In all the aforementioned colleges, a senior graduating high school would need to be in the top 10% (6% in one case) of their class to be considered a viable candidate for admission. In addition to that, the SAT or ACT scores would need to match those high GPA’s. Add in all the rest of the things that make a student attractive to an elite college and these stories dominating the college news pages only affect a small portion of our college-bound high school graduates.
One program I have seen that can actually change the lives of American students from the lower or middle classes is in Tennessee. The state government provided funding or all their high school graduates to attend community or technical colleges. No legacy requirements, no perfect GPA or SAT scores, don’t have to be the team captain or head cheerleader; just have the desire to succeed and improve your station in life. Unfortunately, this program has not caught on in all 50 states. Even if the ultimate target for the student was a four year degree, two years could be shaved off the price by taking advantage of the free associate degree. This kind of investment pays for itself. Just look at the countries around the world that offer college education opportunities at a fraction of what it costs in the US – if not free. They attract industry like magnets because of the average level of education is so high.
You may have heard the saying, “there is no free lunch”. This is true, but the “free” education is being funded by the taxpayer. After two years of free college, that student will enter the workplace with the potential to earn $20,000 more per year than they could with only a high school diploma. Convert that kind of increased earning power into taxable dollars and you can see that over the lifetime of that individual, the investment is a good one.
The elite colleges have their place but that is not a place for most of our high school graduates. Do something that will change the landscape for the typical American teen if you want to change the world.