Things to Know about Student Loan Debt

Things to Know about Student Loan Debt

Student loan debt levels are distressing. While debt taken on by recent graduates averages $30,000, there are some loan packages worth over $100,000. All parents analyzing loans should read about this cautionary tale.

Ten Colleges Under $35,000 (OK, 11!)

Readers love rankings. September marked the release of the infamous US News "College Rankings". The New York Times popular "Upshot" column recently published their own college rankings using the number of Pell Grant recipients enrolled as the primary consideration. The Federal Government (Department of Education) now ranks colleges using Cost of Attendance (COA) criteria. National magazines like Money and Forbes also publish a list. Your stalwart A+ team decided to publish a small list of its own based on the #1 question asked by clients: How much is this college adventure going to cost us?

Obviously, college cost is an important consideration for families. Yet, we think families need to consider one additional statistic when comparing college costs-- what is the four-year graduation rate of colleges with a total COA of less than $35,000? On the list below, we place the percentage of students that graduate in four years right next to the cost of attending that school. We think graduating in four years is important primarily because paying tuition for 4 years is cheaper than paying for 6 years!  By keeping to the trendy "Top Ten" label, our list is obviously short and non-exhaustive.  Also, note there are many reasons a college may have a low four-year graduation rate (eg. lots of commuter students and/or part-time student status, transfer issues, impacted majors) which may or may not affect an individual student.

That said, our A+ mantra is:  #motivation trumps #rankings! If you are, indeed, motivated, then statistics don't really matter. Your motivation will help you graduate in 4 years even if many of your classmates do not.

In ascending order of COA (2014's cost of attendance including tuition, room, board, transportation, other annual and mandatory fees) side-by-side with the respective 4-year graduation rate:

1.  California Community Colleges:  $17, 386 -- 64%

2.  Eastern Washington University in Cheney: $22,100 -- 24% (this is the WUE rate which shaves off about $11,000 making EWU cheaper than SDSU for California students living on campus. EWU's WUE is stellar and the campus is awesome. Learn more here!

3. University of Nevada, Reno:  $24,000 (WUE rate) -- 16%

4. CSU (eg. San Diego State):  $25,000 -- 33%

5. Northern Arizona University:  $29,380 (WUE rate) -- 30%

6. Colorado Mesa University:  $30,000 -- 13%

7. Appalachian State:  $31,200 -- 40%

8. University of Minnesota:  $31,500 -- 54%

9. Radford University:  $32,000 -- 42%

10. University of California at Davis:  $33,000 -- 51%

11. University of Montana:  $34,780 -- 24%

To compare: Yale University's total COA is roughly $64,00 and has a 4-yr graduation rate of 90%.

The 1990 Student Right to Know Act requires colleges and universities to report graduation rates. 

Note: Why aren't ASU or UA listed here? Their WUE rates are limited. Learn more here and here.

So You Think You Can Pitch?

Lefty Pitcher warming up at Elon’s Baseball Camp

Lefty Pitcher warming up at Elon’s Baseball Camp

Baseball is, notoriously, a game of failure. The MLB, NCAA, and even the Little League organization collect terabytes of statistics which back up that claim. Because every action on a baseball field is measured and quantified, we know the following: the best batters fail 70% of the time; only 23 pitchers have tossed perfect games in Major League history; less than 10% of high school players continue to play ball in college; less than 1% of high school baseball players will ever play at the professional level.

Colorado Mesa University: Suplizio Field

Colorado Mesa University: Suplizio Field

Would you like to know more mind-numbing, spirit-crushing stats meant to dissuade your son from ever considering playing baseball in the Major Leagues?  Here is the perspective of the President of Little League (taken from a 2006 speech):

"For the five million children playing baseball in the United States, 400,000 will play ball in high school. Of those 400,000, around 1,500 will be drafted by a professional baseball team. From those 1,500 or so, 500 will play two seasons or less in the minor leagues. Of the 500 in the minors, 100 will reach the Major League level, with one making it to Cooperstown, N.Y. and the National Baseball Hall of Fame."

As I am not in the business of getting students onto the Padres, Royals or Yankees, let’s focus on the over 400,000 athletes that play baseball on the 15,000 high school teams in the US and specifically, let's focus on roughly 135,000 seniors.  How many seniors will matriculate to the 1608 college level baseball programs in the US: 50,000-ish is the total number of players in all NCAA Divisions, NAIA, & NJCAA programs but, how many roster spots are available to graduating seniors: 13,000 or so.

Appalachian State: Beaver Field

Appalachian State: Beaver Field

Of the 50,000 athletes playing at the college level, only 10,500 play at the Division 1 level. Whittle this down further to reveal the roster spots available to incoming Freshman. Just dividing by 4 (number of years in college), my guesstimate— 2,600 players. (Note: go to the Perfect Game website to see the roughly 4,000 college commitments at all levels of college ball for the 2015 class -- from Cal Tech to Cal State Fullerton.)

University of Virginia: Davenport Field

University of Virginia: Davenport Field

What other dismaying numbers should parents of college-bound baseball athletes know about?

There are 302 D-1 baseball teams with 35 players allowed on the roster per NCAA rules. But, only 27 of those 35 players are eligible for scholarships. NCAA rules allow 11.7 scholarships per team. 

As anyone involved in collegiate baseball will confirm, just because the NCAA allows colleges to offer 11.7 scholarships per team doesn’t mean the college administrators actually give that much money to their baseball coaches. Smaller schools often have only a few (as in 2 or 3) scholarships available per team. NCAA rules say that if any scholarship money is offered, then a minimum 25% scholarship must be offered.

College of Charleston: Patriots Point Field

College of Charleston: Patriots Point Field

How does this work in the real world? A family lucky enough to be offered just 25% of total cost of attendance at Cal State Fullerton, for example, will have to pay (or borrow) the additional 75% or $18,000 per year. A family considering the same 25% offer at Texas Christian would need to come up with $36,000 per year. Full rides? As rare as a no-hitter!

You don’t have to be a statistics major to see that because 8 players on the typical roster will not (cannot!) have any athletic aid, there are roughly 2,400 D-1 athletes playing college ball for the love of the game. If these players don't qualify for merit aid, they (or, more likely, the parents) are paying (borrowing!!) the full cost of attendance.


Obviously, the total cost of attendance at college is what drives parents to seek any and all advantage available. If Johnny can not only read well but play ball well, then Mom and Dad can potentially save big bucks. Thousands of dollars are spent annually by families trying to convert a decent earned run average into a full ride. 

What's "On Deck" in this 3-part series on baseball's scholar-athletes?  A riff about the recruitment racket: Are travel ball teams the minor, minor, minor Leagues?

 Stay tuned... 

College Admissions Anxiety: Just One Person’s Perspective

My thoughts on the over-scheduled, overworked, stressed-out teen begin with the age-old question: What came first, the chicken or the egg? When I look back a few decades, I see the phenomenon of both parents working outside the home starting in earnest at just about the same time public high school budgets started going haywire.  Since a typical, public, school-day is as short as 5-6 hours, working parents needed to find activities for their children after school, in the afternoons and evenings, and often, during school holidays. Many after-school businesses have emerged to fill the void.  The plethora of available activities are of critical importance to working parents, especially for public school families. 

When the first generation of kids that engaged in organized after-school and vacation activities started applying to college, they had lot of activities and adventures to report–all those blanks on the application forms were filled in.  Demographic changes (ie. the baby boomer’s boomlet plus globalization) coupled with highly-involved parents transformed what was once a merely competitive college admissions process into a nerve-racking, debt-defying, lifestyle pursuit.

I don’t see the long term problem as one of over-scheduling (any associated stress disorders and/or unhealthy family dynamics is, obviously, a problem) so much as it is one of inequity.

While many private schools have always provided a full day of academics and “enrichment”, public high school students receive the most basic of academic, athletic and arts exposure. The only language taught at the public Valhalla High School, for example, is Spanish but the private Bishop’s School offers Latin, Greek, Spanish, French, Mandarin. Though Valhalla enrolls over 2100 students, it has 23 athletic teams; Bishops, with 800 students, offers 40. The first thing I noticed when my older son transferred to a private school? Students hangout on-campus, in the library, on the fields, in the music room, till way past dinner time. At my younger son’s public school? Unless you were on a team or in a band, you weren’t at school after last period.

Most parents work outside the home.  Most students attend public not private schools. Most public schools are underfunded and overcrowded with scant attention to advising, to development of critical-thinking skills, or to job skills. Most parents do not have resources and cannot overcome their child’s inadequate educational environment.  Don’t you think we need all students to have access and exposure—to the arts, 21st century science, athletics, nature— to become fulfilled, contributing members of society?

Editor's note: Originally published in 2014. The only additional comment I would add, in 2017,  is this: college costs about 10% more now. So, admissions stress is still there. Shameless plug: call A+ for detailed analyses, the pros/cons, of your own college adventure. 

Cost of College: Going Down?!

There is no easy solution to the tuition debacle. A bit of history: Harvard and the entire Ivy League have always been unaffordable. The average cost of attending Harvard in the 1980's was around $10,000. The median family income at that time hovered just under $30,000. Public colleges and universities, by comparison, were a steal. I mean that literally! In California, in the 1980's, an undergraduate majoring in history paid the same tuition at the UC's as did a medical student. The resources required to teach a history major are just not the same as teaching a medical student. My contention: the current shake up in higher education is long overdue. Unfortunately, we are paying dearly now for the ill-conceived, inefficient pricing structure of times past. So I applaud the recent effort by certain college presidents to actually lower their fees!

Here's a link to an article in the NY Times with more detail on colleges that are lowering fees:

Lady Gaga and College

Lady Gaga and College

Lady Gaga attended, even if only briefly, the Tisch School of the Arts. So, yes, even Lady Gaga had to fill out the Common Application and do the NYU supplement. The college application ritual is a rite of passage for almost 70% of high school seniors.

Cyber Punk'd 2013

I imagine if you are a computer programmer, you are secretly longing for the end of 2013. It's been a bad year for their field. The Common Application. Walmart-Online on BlackFriday. Now, Fordham University.  I give a D- to those who know C++. I feel so sorry for the thousands of high school seniors who received, mistakenly, emails from Fordham's Student Aid Services congratulating them on their acceptance to Fordham only to find they were victims of just another 'glitch' in our cyber-punk'd world. I know that in writing blogs, I drop a letter or transpose a number occasionally and that spell check is of no help when I mean 'bare' but I write 'bear'.  Perhaps misplacing a 1 or a 0 in a million lines of code is the programmer's equivalent of a grammatical error. But, OMG, programming errors wreak havoc on whole swaths of society. This application season, students using CA4 weren't 100% certain if their well-crafted & painstakingly edited essays maintained formatting after pressing submit; there was no box to check if your ethnicity  was Hispanic; uploads were agonizingly slow; payments were not applied.  And, after today's false acceptances from Fordham, my confidence in cyber techies has been sorely tested.  Here's hoping 2014 finds programmers with a renewed attention to detail.

Kids Say the Darndest Things:

If you're in the college application mode, you may be cross eyed by now from reading the hundreds of college admissions blogs analyzing everything from yield ratios to rankings to Estimated Family Contribution to how-to-write-the-winning essay. For a lighthearted chuckle, I've been reading reasons students are or are not applying to various colleges from the blog at College Confidential (

Here are some of the zanier posts:

Colgate: I’m not applying to a university with the same name as a toothpaste

Emerson: I applied b/c they have a Quidditch club

Wake Forest: I didn't apply b/c I was stung by a bee on the campus tour

Yale: I applied b/c Gossip Girl wanted to go there. I got in Early Action but felt bad b/c Gossip Girl didn't.

Wesleyan: I applied b/c Yale is in the same state

Amherst: I’m not applying b/c I got lost trying to find it

Bryn Mawr: I did apply b/c I absolutely must go to a school with Gothic revival architecture

Stanford: I didn't apply b/c the buildings look like Taco Bell

Wheaton: I applied b/c I'm not a christian and I wanted to see my friends faces when I tell them I applied.

Harvard: I didn't apply b/c my dad went there; I did apply b/c my dad went there

Samford: I applied b/c if you say it fast, it sounds like Stanford

Vanderbilt: I didn't b/c when you say it with an English accent, it sounds dumb

Florida: I didn't b/c all that Spanish Moss hanging from the trees is creepy

Maine: I didn't b/c all the colleges in Maine remind me of a Stephen King novel

UMich: no way b/c have you seen the size of the squirrel population?

Purdue: I didn't b/c it reminds me of chicken

BYU: I didn't apply b/c youtube is blocked on campus

Quinnipiac: I didn't b/c the word 'Nipple' is in there somewhere

USC: I didn't b/c I could just never bring myself to yell "Go Trojans!"

Princeton: I did apply just to try and ace out our obnoxious class salutatorian

Fordham University: nope, b/c of the initials

And, finally, with the largest number of negative references on this blog of 836 comments, a sampling of why students didn't apply to Tufts University:  b/c it is reminiscent of something Dr. Seuss would write; b/c of Tufts syndrome; b/c it sounds like a circus; b/c the name sounds like hair or fur; b/c it just...sounds... gross.