I've done some extended thinking about college-related issues for the coming year and a number of things came to my mind, but I managed to boil them all down to three significant areas: cost, value, and competitiveness. So, for what it's worth, which might not be much, depending on which way the future winds blow, here's what I see in my higher education crystal ball:
I predict that the seemingly endless upward spiral of college costs will continue in 2015 and that total student budgets will swell to even greater, shocking heights. Some schools this past year had “sticker" prices of $75,000 per year. I sense the distinct possibility that you will see a few schools nudging or reaching the $80,000-per-year (!) threshold for the 2015-2016 school year. How absurd is that?
Of course, along with these hard-to-believe price tags, comes financial aid, both need-based and merit-based. Yes, those families who are judged to be able to afford “full" (or as we joke, “fool") sticker price by their FAFSAs, CSS Profiles, and specific institutional financial aid forms, will have to endure the hardship of writing checks for these astronomical fees. But, depending on your family's financial status, you may be eligible for some relief from the load. Plus, if you are blessed to be among that category of recruited athlete, you may well be looking at a free ride. However, the percentage of that demographic is micrscopic when compared to the huge number of college applicants every year.
Bottom line for 2015: Get ready to pay more … and more … and more.
The issue of college value and, somewhat conversely, the value of college is related to cost. The question appears to be: What are you getting in return for your investment? Let's assume that yours is a “full-pay" family and that my prediction of an $80,000-per-year student budget comes true at some schools. Next fall's high school seniors in those families will be looking at around $320,000 to obtain a four year degree. Of course, that's assuming that they can complete their degree requirements in four years, which is not a given in today's higher education environment.
The point here is practicality. I know one family who presented their rising-senior son with a proposition. The parents told their boy that they would finance his college education as long as he could present a strong, logical argument as to why he really wanted (and needed) a college degree. A reasonable request, in my view.
Alternatively, they told him that if he was unsure about his motivation for college but had some realistic ideas about other directions, mainly the development of of some business, artistic, or other creative initiative, and he could articulate his vision in a compelling prospectus-like argument, then they would fund him for a maximum of four years, providing an amount, each year, equal to the student budget of whichever school the family and son could agree upon.
I found this to be a very interesting approach to assessing the practical value of a college education. There have been some convincing arguments published lately about the false promises and benefits of “getting a degree," written by millionaires and billionaires who made their fortunes and found both happiness and success without said degree. So, my 2015 prediction here is that in the coming year, there will be a surge in high school seniors seeking alternatives to formal higher education, a.k.a. “college." Their (and their family's) scrutiny of CROI (College's Return On Investment) will enlighten them to alternate paths for the future.
If you're at all tuned into the college admissions scene (which you would seem to be if you're reading this blog), you no doubt have noted a reverse higher education spiral. That is, instead of the skyrocketing spiral of college costs, there has been a mirror spiral, downward, of college acceptance rates.
Stanford University leads the pack with ~five percent. The list of single-digit acceptance rate schools is growing every year. Accordingly, my prediction in this category for 2015 is that we will see the first sub-five-percent acceptance rate school for college applicants next year. My prediction prompts me to bring out my decades-old mantra about college competitiveness: Yesterday's safety schools are today's competitive colleges. If I were to expand that line of thought, based on recent competitive trends, I might update that mantra to say, “Yesterday's competitive colleges are today's “elite" schools," thanks to their plunging acceptance rates.
Why is this? Simple: free-market forces. As long as colleges have more applicants than they need in order to enroll enough students to fill their open slots, they have no incentive to become more accommodating. Also, the (erroneous) mindset of a huge number of the general college-seeking public is that the lower a college's acceptance rate is, the more “prestigious" (whatever that means) it is, leading to yet another erroneous perception that a degree from this institution leads directly to happiness and success in life.
In any event, I forecast that these two divergent trends (spiking costs and crashing acceptance rates) will be exacerbated in 2015. An interesting — and frustrating — dichotomy.
Regardless of what does or doesn't happen in the 2015 college world, let alone how my predictions work out, I'd like to wish all my readers and high school and college students (and their parents) a wonderful New Year in 2015. Here's to your happiness, good health, and safety, wherever you are!
Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.