Alice and Fran Stewart, authors of Making College Pay, are experts on getting the most value out of college education. Alice is a professor of strategy and management at North Carolina A&T University, while Fran is a writer, specializing in personal finance issues, economic development, public policy and urban issues. Their book contains strategies for choosing a college, doing well in college, and maximizing students’ returns on the constantly increasing investment that college demands.
Last month, I was able to speak to the authors about their book. Hear what they had to say and visit our CollegeCFO store to learn more!
What inspired you to write Making College Pay?
Alice: Prior to teaching at A&T University, I was involved with strategic planning for Ohio University. Through that experience, I was able to get a better picture of college as an industry and how it was changing. The interesting thing to me was how those changes aligned with the overall strategic concepts that I now teach in class. It is getting harder and harder for students to get a favorable return on a college degree as an investment due to increasing costs of tuition and decreasing value of the degree itself. I began researching this matter and was astounded by the resources being sacrificed by families to provide their children with a college degree. Being on the ground inside a university made me realize that most students don’t really think in terms of creating a strategy for all four years that will “pay off”. A goal to change those realities prompted me to write this book.
Fran: I got interested in the project because I had seen and reported on one too many stories about students taking on upwards of $100,000 in debt to get a Master’s degree, and many in relatively low paying fields. That topic really got under my skin. I kept thinking about how that magnitude of debt would be such a big burden to start off one’s life. There are too many kids and families that I thought were being misled by the assumption that a college degree was going to pay off no matter the cost and no matter the field of study. So it’s really become kind of a soapbox issue for me. I saw that Alice and I could combine our insights and our talents to work on that.
What should parents do when faced with the rising costs of college?
Alice: One of the tensions that you see in looking at the finance of higher education is that parents are leveraging their retirement account in order to put their kids through college. That’s just such a bad decision.
Some students have parents who assume their children must go to college, no matter what. There are also a large number of students who are first generation college students. Their parents may not understand intricacies of financial aid and scholarships vs. grants and loans. It’s alphabet soup. People assume there is adequate resources available to make an informed decision and that parents have a better level of understanding about the financial issues associated with college than they really do. That’s simply not the case.
Fran: I’m a parent and I talk to a lot of parents. It’s shocking to me to hear how many parents talk about how they’re just finishing off paying their own student loans before facing their children’s student loans! I know the feeling of wanting to do everything you can to help your children achieve their dream, but we also need to be talking to them about the reality of the economic situation. We want to tell them that they can achieve their dreams, but not to take on enough debt to kill those dreams.
What is the most important thing that you want college students to know about getting a good return on their college investment?
Alice: Don’t quit. If you’re going to start down this path then you have to finish. If you want to make sure that your college decision pays off, then you have to look for three things: 1) Ways to minimize cost, 2) Ways to increase your marketability and 3) Ways to improve the odds that you graduate.
Fran: That part is under reported in the media when they talk about these issues. Everyone has articles every summer about the decision to go to college and how to choose which college to go to. But there is much less emphasis on what it takes to stay there. You have to ask yourself: What is it going to take to be successful and get the most out of the experience? Take advantage of every opportunity offered to you.
Find out more about Alice and Fran by going to their website: www.makingcollegepay.com or purchase at the CollegeCFO store.
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