Reading in Institute. A woman sits at a desk and reads
from her scriptures during an institute class. Accessed
May 5, 2018 from the LDS Media Library.
Below is something I wrote for my family and close friends. However, it needs to be shared widely, especially among Mormons.

Krista’s Educational Epistle

The Current State of Education in America

Student debt in America is now over 1 trillion dollars. It has been this way for 6 years.
The typical debt burden per student is now $35,000. This is NOT reasonable debt. This is NOT manageable debt. This is CRIPPLING debt! For some time now, student debt exceeds personal credit card debt.

Prospective students face a very different educational environment than we did at their age. They should NOT be left to just muddle through it on their own. Mistakes can handicap kids for life. Parents MUST be involved in assisting their kids in higher education, and I don’t mean just financially.

College mistakes can now impoverish you for life.

It’s a very different educational world out there and kids NEED help!

A Primer on Higher Education Schools

There are 5 basic categories of school types:

1.    Research universities
2.    Teaching colleges/universities
3.    Community colleges
4.    Vocational/Technical Schools
5.    For-Profit Schools

Research universities:

These are usually large schools where professors’ main responsibility is researching and publishing.

Professors often have a 2:1 or 1:2 teaching load. This means they teach two classes one semester/term and one the next semester/term.

Research universities tend to be public schools. However, there plenty of private research universities as well, like Harvard, Stanford, Yale, etc.

Land-grant universities are a special category of research universities. We owe their existence to President Abraham Lincoln.

Each state has at least one. Every state’s Extension Services come from these schools.
Most of the schools have broad liberal arts and other programs but the land-grant emphasis is always there.

Undergraduate students and majors are considered a necessary evil at research institutions. The schools need the tuition from undergraduate students; but they don’t want THEM.

The primary money source and emphasis at research universities is graduate education and attracting research dollars.

These schools are marvelous places to go to graduate school. They are usually lousy places to go if you are an undergraduate.

The schools often have tens of thousands of students and multiple graduate programs and schools – medicine, veterinary science, dentistry, law, etc.

Most undergraduate courses at research institutions contain hundreds of students and they are largely taught by Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTA’s). Many of these GTA’s do not speak English.

At Virginia Tech, I was one of them. My sole comfort was that I did speak English. My fellow Ph.D. students counseled me to not put too much time into teaching; it could, and probably would, interfere with my own education and research. This is the typical attitude at any research entity.

At the university wide training meeting for GTA’s at Virginia Tech, the “training” consisted mostly of cultural issues:

“It is customary in the United States to shower every day. You need to do so as well.”

“Do not touch your students in any way. Touching is not appropriate in American culture.”

Large public research universities are more common in western states than in eastern states. On the flip side, the eastern states have a lot of private, liberal arts schools.

There are reasons rich people send their kids to private, and pricey, liberal arts schools. They want their kids taught, not just herded around at public research universities. Often, professor to student ratios at these private schools are 1:8 – 1:15.

Hollins, where I taught for 2 years, is a private, liberal arts college for women. The professor to student ratio is 1:12.

Teaching Colleges/Universities

These schools are usually mid-size and focus on teaching. This is what Northern Michigan University is, where I taught for 4 years.

The schools are probably 3,000 up to about 15,000 students. As public schools, these are marvelous and reasonably priced. Generally, there are few graduate programs, if any.

Often, the schools are large enough to have marvelous facilities, but small enough that the students have a personal experience, as opposed to getting lost in all the numbers.

Community Colleges

Community Colleges are the best bang for your educational buck! They are nearly always public schools and the most reasonably priced of any school entity. This was true in the past and it is true now.

Most students attend community colleges with an eye toward transferring elsewhere when they are juniors/seniors.

States have always known that community colleges are the best option for funding higher education. We also know that these schools are the best place for anybody to start college.

They are not seen as “chic” options among students. This is unfortunate. However, community college students often have the best undergraduate experience of any students attending state schools.

These schools emphasize nothing but teaching and focus entirely on the needs of the students.

Vocational and Technical Schools

Although I’m listing this as a separate category, these schools are often in a community college structure. These schools emphasize a particular trade. They are usually a certificate program or training for less than two years.

You will find programs like cosmetology, welding, auto mechanics and so forth at these schools.

These schools are not very “chic” and we tend to associate them with dumb kids who can’t handle a truly rigorous education.

However, there is NOTHING wrong with being able to handle electrical, plumbing, gas, construction tasks, etc. Knowing these types of things can save you an enormous amount of hassle and costs over your lifetime and that of your family members.

I cannot even begin to estimate how much Greg’s practical skills have saved us over the years. He can fix ANYTHING!

In fact, since undergraduate student skills command nothing beyond minimum wage, I would consider students who become something like dental hygienists or welders first and then use those skills to fund the rest of their education as being pretty smart!

For-Profit Schools

These schools prey on the poor and the dumb. Whatever training they provide, you can get elsewhere for a lot less.

On average, these schools are 20 times more expensive than the same thing you can get elsewhere.

Never, never, never attend these schools, or encourage others to attend these schools. They are lousy options for everyone.

They are predatory and are just out to grab federal education dollars from grant and loan programs the federal government offers or subsidizes.

They leave students with horrendous debt and not much education, if any at all. Their certificates or ‘degrees’ are usually not accredited and thus of no value in getting jobs or applying toward further education.

Various Schools Categorized

These categories of schools are my own creation. A lot of community colleges offer vocational and technical schools as well. BYU-Idaho has some vocational and technical offerings as well.

Research Universities
Teaching Colleges and Universities
Community Colleges
Vocational and Technical Schools
UofU, Utah State U.
Utah Valley Univ.
Salt Lake CC
Salt Lake CC
Univ. of Phoenix

Why We Are at Such a Critical Juncture

We are STILL mired in the traditional model. Colleges and universities are operating the same way now as they have in the past.

One of my academic friends notes, “We can’t continue to raise tuition every year. This is unsustainable.” He’s right! It IS unsustainable. The traditional model is unsustainable.

Computers and the Internet make educational choices available to us now that have never existed in history. The only problem is that we aren’t quite there yet. Alternatives are not as sophisticated as they can be, and will be, in the future.

This is what I mean:

  • Online degrees and options don’t have the cachet of brick and mortar schools, yet.
  • Schools are not fully exploiting digital and face-to-face education options. “Blended” options are still just getting started.
The biggest education stories are certainly BYU-Pathway Worldwide and Western Governor’s University.

We don’t have to take the students to the schools anymore. We can take school to the students. However, the traditional model still has a strong hold on our society.

Non-traditional education has the potential to be extremely affordable and deliver a lot more education options.

For example, if you start out in the BYU-Pathway Connect Program, this can lock down the price to just $79 per credit hour, if you go on for a four-year online degree. Yes, you read that right! You can get a 4 year degree for less than $10,000! No other entity can even come close to that.

Community college students can transfer their credits to a public or private university relatively easily. The junior and senior years are not as alienating as the freshman or sophomore years are at a big, impersonal, research institution.

Keep in mind that the tables just turned for public college/university students. In the past, the state would cover most of the cost of a person’s college degree from a state school. States aren’t subsidizing college anymore. You will pay most of the cost now.

It is NOT Just About One Major Anymore

Traditionally, students decide on one major, the major occupation they want for the rest of their lives. This system no longer works in our world.

We know that all of us will have an average of 3-5 career changes over the course of our life. You need to think broader than just one major.

I think you ought to be able to do 3 things, as well as keep learning for your lifetime:

Valuable skill: This could be a vocational or technical skill, like medical coder, welder or dental hygienist.

Broad liberal arts/major: Broad liberal arts and science studies are still enormously valuable. This hasn’t changed. You just need to add the other two to your list.

Computer skills: Every occupation imaginable needs extensive computer skills. What’s more, you can get them just about anywhere.

Church leaders emphasize lifelong learning now. You need to make it part of your life as well.

How to Minimize Your Education Costs

If you take a look at projected student expenses, a few things leap out at you and suggest ways to minimize your costs.

Room and board is the largest, or one of the largest, costs at any school. Minimizing these costs can help tremendously.

I chose the University of Utah for this comparison. Other schools will be similar. This is total costs for a full-time, in-state, undergraduate student for a whole school year.

Living On Campus
Living Off Campus
Living With Parents

BYU’s estimates
Living On Campus
Living With Parents

This is BYU-Idaho’s estimates:
Living On Campus
Living Off Campus
Living With Parents

Salt Lake Community College is incredibly reasonable:
Living With Parents

This total for SLCC doesn’t reflect transportation or other expenses.

I list these costs with some trepidation. They are only estimates and they are one of the things schools tend to lie about. More on that below.

College costs go down significantly if you live with your parents/relatives. I know it is more fun to live at school or on your own. In the past, I encouraged kids to get away from home. However, now costs make it more reasonable to live at home, if you can.

It is no longer prudent to go into debt for the full “college experience.” Consider that we never encourage adult, non-traditional, students to live in the dorms or in student housing of some sort. They just need the education experience, not college life.

Get a job, work-study, whatever. Campus work can be an education, in and of itself. That is certainly what working in the law library was for me. Besides the extra money, campus jobs are extraordinarily valuable.

Remember, tuition is different from fees. Schools that say that their tuition is low and not changing are often piling on the fees. Fees can be horrendous. Whether it is tuition or fees, it is still money out of your pocket.

Schools have always charged additional fees for things, like music lessons or lab fees. However, individual fees are really mounting. I counted 15 additional, mandatory, fees at the UofU alone.

Get a job. Don’t work more than 20 hours a week. Ten to 15 may be better. You need good study time. Work-Study jobs don’t exist at church schools. They are only an option at public schools.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was President of BYU the entire time I was there. During an 
address he said, “If you bring a car to BYU, your education will cost you exactly double.”

He also said that a recent study found that no A-students had cars, some B-students had cars, Most C-students had cars, nearly all D-students had cars and all the F-students had cars.

Don’t get a car, use public transport, walk or do whatever you can to avoid this cost. Schools often offer reduced fare options on public transport.

Nearly all schools have opportunities to buy computers and other digital devices at a significant discount for students. Software is also low-cost or free. Look into these deals. They are marvelous and even jaw-dropping.

Remember, they’ll always give you way more student loan money than you really need. It is unconscionable how much they will loan you.

In addition, they keep some of the money to “service your loan.” They take it out before they give you what is left.

Stay out of debt as much as possible. You will never regret minimizing your school debt.
FAFSA is the government form on which nearly all grant and loan money is based. Make it a priority to fill it out as soon as you can.

You can fill out the FAFSA in early October now. Grant money and loan money is less available the longer you wait.

Also keep in mind that grant money is only available to undergraduates. Graduate students can only access loan money.

What Schools Lie About and Why They Do It

Schools lie about everything, including how much school costs, as well as what your salary is likely to be when you become employed in your chosen profession.

So, I’m telling you up front, don’t believe the numbers, even with church schools. The numbers are estimates and things can change fast.

Here are some examples:

1. Virginia Tech claims that it has about 23,000 students. This is a lie. The accurate number is about 27,000 or more. The reason they lie is that parents would be up-in-arms if they discovered what the actual professor to student ratio is. How do I know this? Simple. Many of the graduate students in my Ph.D. program were administrators working in the school, including the Director of Financial Services. He KNEW what the real numbers were.

2. A business school may say that the average starting salary for its business school graduates is $100,000. However, that could mean that they have 10 graduates with 1 getting a job for $1 million in his Daddy’s company and the rest are unemployed.

Schools try and do what they can to make their numbers look good. This can lead to distortions, as well as outright lying. Who can challenge the numbers? Well, no one outside the institution. They don’t have access to any of the data.

Other Ways to Lower College Costs, Such as Advanced Placement Credit

Okay, I know many of you are not going to want to hear this, but I don’t recommend you acquire Advanced Placement (AP) credit to lower your college costs.

Please consider that my advice comes from my experience being a student, as well as being faculty, at a variety of schools.

Advanced Placement (AP):

Advanced Placement is considered only C-quality credit at the college level, even if you get the highest score on the test that is possible. I know you don’t want to hear this fact, but it is painfully accurate.

Colleges and universities view AP credit in less glowing terms than do students, parents, teachers and guidance counselors in high schools. In addition, it’s reputation has consistently gone down over the years.

AP credit is C-quality credit, whether you like it or not.

There are other reasons that AP credit isn’t really a bargain. For example, if you are going to major in a field of study, you need A-credit, not C-credit on which to build.

Some programs and departments will not accept AP credit for completing major requirements. You may still have to take the designated introductory course, even if you have AP credit that should have met these criteria.

Many schools that accept AP credit accept it only as generic credit. For graduation, you must have completed a certain number of credit hours. AP credit can sometimes help you over that threshold.

However, this also produces a problem. If you have too many credit hours and you haven’t graduated yet, schools will penalize you. Often, they hike your tuition up as an incentive to graduate as quickly as possible.

So, A.P. credit is not a financial bargain for the following reasons.
  • You have to pay to take the AP test
  • You may have to take the same course in college anyway, because requirements differ.
  • If you incur a penalty for having too many credits and not graduating, you could be slapped with a fine.

Don't pay three times for C-quality credit. It isn't worth it.

This is not sour grapes on my part either. I had both AP and CLEP credit transfer to BYU. It did me no good and I think it did me some harm.

My AP credit got my freshman English class waived. However, a class I had to take for another requirement would have satisfied the English class requirement as well. So, I paid twice for the same credit.

All the professors assumed you had taken the Freshman English class and often referred to things it contained. I had to fill these gaps on my own, on my own time.

I went through the materials my roommates used for American Heritage, the course my AP score allowed me to test out of. I do NOT think my AP class was adequate.

Apparently, BYU agrees now. Getting a 3 on the AP U.S. History test would not net me any credit at all. Getting a 4-5 only partially fulfills the American Heritage requirement.

On the other hand, take all the AP classes you can get into! Admissions looks very highly on AP classes. It always favorably impresses Admissions committees! Take the most rigorous classes you have available to you.

Just don’t take the test. The test isn’t worth it.

Concurrent Enrollment:

There are other ways to earn college credit in high school. You can take a college course at your high school that satisfies college courses as well. Schools ensure that the same textbook materials and standards are used. The regular high school teacher teaches the class at the high school, but at a college level for college credit.

In Utah, you pay $25. dollars per credit hour for concurrent enrollment. This is a steal in higher education!

International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP):

If your school has an IB program, sign up! It is well worth it. If it doesn’t, just ignore this recommendation. I believe these tests are worth taking.

Scholarships and Other Financial Aid

Scholarships and financial aid have not kept up with how school costs have risen. There aren’t enough of them out there to make a real difference, except for a handful of students.

Many schools concentrate their scholarship money on Freshmen. They do it in a way that you are almost certain to lose your scholarship after the first year. You can’t give 70 percent of Freshman a scholarship and stipulate that they have to remain in the top 30 percent of students to continue it after the first year. Most Freshman lose scholarships after the first year.

Schools just try to get you hooked, so you will stay after the scholarship ends and you are fully invested at the school.

General scholarships are rare. I prefer them. BYU uses them more than public schools. You get scholarships regardless of what you major in.

Department specific scholarships can be tricky. You could lose them, if you change your major. Don’t let a scholarship lock you into something you may not want to pursue as a profession.

Avoid scholarships that stipulate that you have to actually graduate in a particular field. If you change your major, you may have to pay it back.

Avoid repeating classes, especially if you are on scholarship. Retaking a class will probably nullify your prior grade; but if it puts you under a certain number of credit hours for that semester it may vacate your scholarship. You will probably have to pay back the money you got on scholarship.

Seeking subject matter or department scholarships in your Junior or Senior year makes a lot more sense, especially if you are confident you have found your ideal occupation.

Final Thoughts

Your best college options will depend on who you are and where you are, what you want to do, as well as so many other things.

Some kids will thrive anywhere and some kids will do so much better in an environment that is suited to their needs.

Church schools have a real advantage in higher education. Splitting the kids into wards and families for FHE purposes helps the kids socially and emotionally handle college better. The support structure of the Church and its programs really helps students.

In other schools, the sororities, fraternities and clubs try to address this. However much they claim they are “service oriented”, we know they are really just sex and drinking clubs. That goes for ALL of them.

Church options work better, even if it is just the Institute program available on nearly every available campus.

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