Blog | Topic: Debt

Is College Worth It?

WorthIt“Students seem to have no idea what they are getting into.”

My neighbor’s son was recently visiting home after spending a day speaking to classes at his alma mater. He was asked to talk to current college students about his work and how his time in college prepared him for a career in finance. Before diving into the topic at hand, he asked the students about how they were paying for college and how much debt they were accumulating. The above comment was the beginning of our recent, eye-opening conversation on my front porch.

Students have no idea? My neighbor made three helpful observations from his day with college students… First, he was alarmed to discover that the school he attended less than 10 years ago now costs $46,000 a year. He had no idea that the cost had risen so much since he was a student. Second, he was shocked to learn that most students didn’t seem to realize how difficult it would be to pay off that kind of debt in the current economy. (And these were students studying business and finance!) Third, he was disappointed to realize that he seemed to be the only person bringing this up with the students.

I wanted to make sure I was hearing him correctly. Here’s the summary I offered: “So, students are accumulating massive amounts of debt, the job prospects are bleak and no one, before you, has pointed this out to the students?”


The above video clip is the beginning of a BookTV panel discussion hosted by the American Enterprise Institute about William Bennett and David Wilezol’s book Is College Worth It? A Former United States Secretary of Education and a Liberal Arts Graduate Expose the Broken Promise of Higher Education. (You can watch the full program here.)

Bill Bennett’s introduction should be heard by all students and parents entering the college planning process. No matter what side of the political aisle you are on (and yes, Dr. Bennett is most often associated with the “right”), you should not avoid asking good questions about the value and worth of a 4-year college degree, especially in this economy. At one point during the panel discussion, Ohio University economics professor Richard Vedder makes this observation: “Colleges are too costly; students are learning too little; and employment prospects for graduates are increasingly dismal.” That should, at the very least, give us pause.

Please do take time to watch this short video, read the book and let the conversation begin!

It is because countless conversations like the one yesterday on my front porch and the publication of important books like Is College Worth It? that has motivated me to host the new CTI seminar “The College Choice: Faith, Family & Finances” on October 12 in Lancaster, PA. College costs are going up, students are going into crippling debt and I’m convinced that we need to have better conversations about life after high school. I hope to see you there!

Related Resources:

Seminar: The College Choice: Faith, Family & Finances (October 12)

Blog: Houston We Have a College Planning Problem

Blog: College Financial Planning: Advice for Parents and Students

Blog: College… Not Just Where, But Why?

Expert Interview: “College, Crippling Debt and the Need for Financial Wisdom” (PDF) by Derek Melleby

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College Financial Planning: Advice for Parents and Students

CollegeFundingAdvisorsToday many would-be college students and parents are second guessing the culturally assumed next step after high school. And for good reason. Outstanding college student loans have exceeded $1 trillion. Time Magazine listed “Questioning the Value of Higher Education” as one of the top-ten trends in America in 2011. The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) recently launched a campaign warning students with this message: “Don’t Major in Debt!

I have had countless conversations with students and parents regarding funding for college. Many families are asking difficult questions about whether or not a college degree is “worth it” in today’s economy. (These conversations have been the catalyst for the new CTI seminar: “The College Choice: Faith, Family & Finances.”)

Terry Evearitt is committed to helping parents and students make wiser decision about college. His life journey has taken him in many directions including: journeyman carpenter; sailor on the Great Lakes; US Army (Vietnam veteran); missionary for three years in West Africa; pastor for 13 years; and working in financial services for 25 years. Terry draws on all of these experiences when working with families through his business College Funding Advisors, Inc. Terry is also a good friend. I have learned much from our many conversations about college planning and the future of higher education. (Terry graciously offers a one hour FREE consultation and I would strongly encourage interested readers to take advantage of it). What follows is an interview with Terry to help us think more clearly about planning for college:

What motivated you to focus on college financial planning? Why are you passionate about this work?

Terry6Terry: It comes from two life experiences: First experience was while doing general financial planning for families. I often ran across clients who had graduated 15 years ago and still had $30,000 or more in student loans. Second is from personal experience. When my children started college, I was not prepared. I jokingly comment to my clients: “You don’t have to make any college planning mistakes. I’ve already made them all!”

Some experts have suggested that college loans/debt is heading toward a bubble that will lead to another economic crisis. Do you think college debt is as bad as many pundits suggest? Are we heading toward a crisis? 

Terry: For many families it is far worse than they can imagine. Statistics are that few are prepared for retirement. When people enter their highest earning years and should be aggressively saving for retirement they are hit with college costs for their children. You cannot borrow for retirement and you cannot repossess a college education. Also, statistics don’t reflect all the student loans. Often parents will take a second mortgage to pay for their student’s college costs. These are not calculated in student loans. For many families and students college debt will be with them for decades.

What do you think surprises people the most when you talk to them about the rising cost of higher education?

Terry: Most people have no idea about today’s cost of college. For many they have not “counted the costs” and what it will mean to their economic future. People have been saying for decades that college costs can’t keep going up. Guess what? Today many colleges cost over $60,000 per year and the least expensive state supported college in Pennsylvania costs over $20,000 per year.  Where’s that money coming from?  How can you afford college?

What advice would you give parents and students who are just starting to think about college planning?  

Terry: Start early and explore ALL options. Earlier is always better than later when it comes to college planning. Begin with a career direction. Next, explore what college major is required for that career. Finally, explore what is the best way to get that degree; explore all options.

Is there anything else you would like to communicate to students and parents?  

Terry: It has been my experience that many do not know what they don’t know and they don’t know they don’t know it. Most families don’t know enough to ask questions or where to begin a college plan. Yes the web is full of information but it is difficult to apply it to your unique situation. Every family and every student is different. There is no “one size fits all” in college planning. It is possible to get a great education and not be in debt for the next 15-25 years. I love helping families discover what works for them!

Related Resources:

Seminar: The College Choice: Faith, Family & Finances (October 12)

Blog: “Houston, We Have a College Planning Problem

Expert Interview:  “College, Crippling Debt and the Need for Financial Wisdom: J. Steve Miller Interview” by Derek Melleby (.pdf)

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Houston, We Have a College Planning Problem

College Choice - CTI HomepageCPYU’s College Transition Initiative began in 2005. For the last eight years, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to groups of students and parents about how to be prepared for and make the most of life after high school. Recently, I’ve noticed a shift in the way families talk about higher education. Here’s a story that captures what I mean…

A few years ago I was speaking in Houston, TX. During one of the breaks a father and his son hurried over to talk to me. The dad stood behind his son, his hands on his son’s shoulders and his plea went something like this:

Please tell me what to do with my son. We don’t have a clue. Everything has changed! When I was growing up, this is how it worked. I grew up in California. During my junior year of high school, the guidance counselor took the initiative and told me, based on my interests and academic ability, that I should consider a career in engineering. I went to a state university, for free, got a degree in engineering and I’ve been an engineer at the same company for over 25 years. Now my son is entering the college admission’s process and it seems so confusing! He doesn’t know what to study or where to go. He’s has received very little help from his school. We receive mail from colleges every day. We really don’t know how we can afford it. Make sense of it for me!”

He smiled after the last sentence. He knew I couldn’t possibly provide all of the information he needed during a five minute break. But this conversation has stuck with me. Since that day, I’ve wanted to provide a seminar for students and parents to help them “make sense” of the college planning and admission’s process.

The times have changed… Think about this father’s story: A guidance counselor knew him well enough to help him in the process. He went to college FOR FREE! He got a job in his field shortly after he graduated. He has been working for the same company for over 25 years.

This scenario is no longer the norm. But the other parts of his story are now very common: His son isn’t sure what he wants to study, where he wants to go and the father has no idea how to pay for college! Sound familiar?

Countless conversations like this one has been the motivation behind the new seminar “The College Choice: Faith, Family & Finances” being held in Lancaster, PA on October 12.

The seminar has three goals… Participants will gain:

A biblical vision for making the most of these years

A clearer understanding of the cost/value of college

A wise approach to the college admission’s process

This seminar is for students, parents, educators and youth workers looking for resources for making better decisions about life after high school. The seminar will be beneficial whether you are early (parents of middle schoolers) or late (parents of high school seniors) in the college planning process. I hope to see you there!

Click here to learn more about the seminar.

Click here to register.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

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College, Crippling Debt and the Need for Financial Wisdom

Miller_slideshowA few years ago, I was driving a recent college graduate to lunch to celebrate his completion of college. He had a very difficult four years and he was excited for the next chapter of his life story. I asked him if he was graduating with much debt. “I’m one of the lucky ones,” he responded. “I’m only graduating with $50,000 of debt from student loans. Many of my friends have a lot more debt than me!”

What? I almost drove the car off the road. $50,000! I knew the degree he had earned, I knew of his plans for graduate school, and I couldn’t imagine being 22 years old, carrying that much debt. And he is one of the lucky ones?

This conversation was eye opening. First of all, it made me more attentive to the reality of debt most college students face. To my surprise, many of the students I have talked with since that memorable car ride are unaware of the crippling burden that debt can bring. A college degree can increase earning potential, to be sure, but not enough students and parents are talking about what kind of debt is good debt. Certainly, college is about much more than getting a degree to get a job and there is good reason to be concerned about the commodification of learning. We do need to be careful about how we measure the economic value of an education. But students and parents need to be practical and wise as well, asking: “Is this particular degree worth the cost?”

Secondly, the conversation with the young graduate open my eyes to the need for helpful resources for students and parents as they think through financial concerns related to college. As I surveyed the vast landscape of books available, a book by Steve Miller stuck out the most. Enjoy Your Money! How to Make It Save It and Give It Away is creative and engaging. It communicates deeper truths about money and spending through stories. Steve is an educator, investor, entrepreneur, and speaker who is known for drawing practical wisdom from serious research and communicating it in accessible, unforgettable ways. What follows is an interview with Steve about his important book and the financial challenges that many students and parents face…

Download the article (.pdf) here.

Read more articles here.

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Containing the Cost of College

College Choice - CTI HomepageThis past weekend, the Lancaster Sunday News (PA) featured two, side-by-side columns about the rising cost of higher education. Both articles are worth reading: “Paying For College Is A Whole New Ballgame” by Lancaster Newspapers staff writer Gil Smart and “Student Services Fuel Rising College Costs” by Elizabethtown College professor April Kelly-Woessner. Here are a few highlights…

From Mr. Smart:

“According to U.S. News & World Report, the total cost of a four-year degree by the time my youngest goes to college, assuming he does, will top $200,000… My own schooling was paid for with grants, loans and the occasional credit card; the debt was paid off a decade after I graduated, and the feeling of liberation was palpable. But the $10,000 or so I owed is minuscule compared to the debt accumulated by graduates today. And particularly in this job market — one likely to continue deteriorating in terms of quality, good-paying jobs for those just out of school — how in the world can grads expect to conquer the resulting mountain of debt?

From Dr. Kelly-Woessner:

“College costs are largely consumer- driven. The solution may be to simply reduce the money available to students. Unfortunately, universities often find that instructional costs are the easiest to cut. Indeed, many institutions are increasingly relying on low-paid adjuncts. In the face of financial strain, my husband has seen the full-time faculty members in his department at Penn State Harrisburg cut in half. So, although faculty salaries have not driven the rising tuition costs, instruction is often the first casualty in the face of budget cuts.”

From my many conversations with families, I’m realizing more and more that parents and students have questions about how to make wise decisions concerning life after high school. That’s why I’m so excited about the seminar on October 12 in Lancaster, PA. Registration info coming soon!

Related resources:

Seminar: The College Choice: Faith, Family & Finances

Expert Interview: “College, Crippling Debt and Financial Wisdom: J. Steve Miller Interview

Infographic: “Unprepared for College: Half of All College Students Drop Out Before Receiving a Degree

Blog: “How Should Christians Count the Cost of a College Education?

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NEW Seminar on College Planning: October 12, 2013

College Choice - CTI HomepageFeeling unprepared for college? 

Learn how to plan for college with confidence!

Announcing a NEW seminar from CPYU’s College Transition Initiative…

What: The College Choice: Faith, Family & Finances

When: October 12, 2013 – 8:30am-12:00pm

Where: East Earl, PA (Shady Maple Banquet Center)

Why: Put faith first in college planning…

Higher education has faced sharp criticism recently. Many pundits and families are starting to question the value of a college degree. And for good reason. Did you know…

Nearly 50% of first-year students do not graduate within six years?

Student loan debt has exceeded $1 trillion?

Only one in seven high school seniors report feeling prepared to face the challenges of college life?

Now it’s more important than ever that families make wise decisions about college, particularly concerning where to go, what to study, and how to pay. Participants will gain…

A biblical vision for making the most of these formative years
A clearer understanding of the true cost and value of college
A wise approach to the college admission’s process

This seminar is for students, parents, youth workers, and educators looking for resources to make wise decisions about life after high school.


Derek Melleby, director of CPYU’s College Transition Initiative and author of Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life and Learning.

Terry Evearitt, certified college planner, College Funding Advisors, Inc.

Matt Reitnour, director of college counseling, Wesleyan Christian Academy, High Point, NC.

Cost: $15/individual $25/family

Mark your calendars. Seating is limited.

Click here to register!

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How Should Christians Count the Cost of a College Education?

College_CostHigher education has taken a lot of heat in the past few years. Many pundits and families are starting to question the value of a college degree. Time Magazine listed “questioning the value of higher education” as one of the top-ten consumer trends of 2012. Last fall, Newsweek ran a cover story asking the question “Is College A Lousy Investment?” (related video). Last week, the newest research from Pew’s Economic Mobility Project, revealed that a four-year college degree helped shield the latest graduates from a range of poor employment outcomes during the recession. There is now plenty of “research” to support both sides of the argument. It’s enough to make your head spin.

Not too long ago, a study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce revealed the earning potential of different college majors. It turns out, not surprisingly, that people who major in engineering, physical sciences and business make more money than students with degrees in the arts, education or psychology. This quote from one of the researches really stuck out to me: “This is going to be the real course catalog for parents and students.” Meaning, families will look to this research when making decisions on colleges to attend and courses to take. Should that be the case? Here’s a question we might miss: What is higher education for?

For Christians I think there can be some real tension here. On the one hand, we want to make wise decisions about college, not over spending and accumulating debt for something that isn’t worth the money. I’ve watched too many students and parents go into crippling debt to obtain a degree that may take a lifetime to pay off. On the other hand, followers of Christ are motivated by different factors when it comes to work and career and live life based on a very different definition of success. In losing life, we find it. A life well-lived is in service to God and neighbor. There’s more to college (and life) than the “earning” potential of a college degree.

My advice would be this: keep both of these factors in tension. Make wise financial decisions about college, avoiding debt as much as possible. And, be attentive to God’s lead, asking good questions about the motivations of your heart as you decide on a college and a major. As followers of Jesus, as with all decisions, we must always be willing to count the cost of discipleship.

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Christian College Versus… COST?!

When I started doing College Transition Seminars in 2005, there was one question that was on a lot of Christian parents’ minds: Do you think we should send our son or daughter to a Christian or secular school? I still get this question from time to time but I don’t hear it as much. Today, the most pressing concern on most people’s minds is the cost and value of higher education. For many years, the value of higher education was understood as self-evident. Students were told that they needed to go to college to be “successful” and debt was justified on the basis that employment opportunities would be abundant.

The economic times have changed. Today many would-be college students are second guessing the culturally assumed next step after high school. And for good reason. Outstanding college student loans are expected to exceed $1 trillion this year. Time Magazine listed “Questioning the Value of Higher Education” as one of the top-ten trends of 2011. What’s more, a plethora of books have recently been published that strongly critique higher education, with titles such as: The Faculty Lounges: And Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Pay For; Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses; Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life. (The New York Review of Books highlights these titles and more in a very helpful article: “Our Universities: Why Are They Failing?”)

The March 2012 issue of Christianity Today put the spotlight on higher education, particularly Christian colleges and universities. The featured articles recognized the financial burden that higher education has become, but also made a strong case for the value of attending a Christian institution of higher learning. To their credit, the authors do recognize that a Christian college isn’t “for everyone.” The articles are worth reading, especially if you are trying to make an informed decision about life after high school. I found the following interview very informative: “Sailing into the Storm: Philip Ryken and D. Michael Lindsay on the Challenges in Christian Higher Education.” Two college presidents (Wheaton and Gordon) discuss the relevance of Christian higher education, the theological issues facing Christian universities, and more. Here’s a good exchange:

CT: Imagine a scenario with me: A student’s parent says, “I’m sending my child to your college to stay out of trouble, find a spouse, graduate, get a great job somewhere, settle down, and start a family.” Isn’t that the American dream?

Lindsay: Those are important components of a whole life, surely. If that’s all you’re looking for in a college experience, then I don’t think it’s worth the investment. What we want is to enliven the minds of young people who have a chance to change the world. I did research on senior leaders. Over half of them had a liberal arts degree. Over half the leaders I interviewed cited the vital importance of a mentor during college.

Ryken: Our parents’ deepest desire is for their sons and daughters to become the men and women God is calling them to become. If you look at what enables young people to sustain a consistent faith in Christ into adulthood, two of the factors are living in a like-minded community that really encourages them to follow this Savior, and having mentors who show them how to live the kind of life they’re called to live.

Read the rest of the interview here. I think both presidents do a good job of keeping the “big picture” in view and offer helpful guidance to those hoping to make a wise college decision.

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