Paying for College

Three Predictions

As Ronald Reagan once said, borrowing an Al Jolson line, 'Stay tuned; you ain't seen nothing yet!" I'm talking about the future of college life here in America. The Big Economic Meltdown is going to effect a sea change, just you wait and see.

How? Here are three predictions from the Berry Institute for Advanced Educational Prognostication, that august think tank, which has been scientifically proven to be right some of the time:

1. More than a few colleges will reel in their financial aid. Endowments have yet to feel the full brunt of the Wall Street (and now Madoff) Massacre. Even the elite are being pummeled. While the Big Guys may still be able to stay on track with their need-blind and free-ride policies, smaller, less affluent schools will have to choose between landscaping and largess. Annual giving will take a nosedive, which will compound the misery. It won't be pretty.

2. Former safety schools will become alarmingly competitive. Have you ever approached the tollbooths on a crowded toll road and watched everyone jockeying for the fastest and easiest path to the other side? This is the metaphor for what is already happening in college admissions. Applications to public universities are surging. Even though the Ivies and other top elites will continue to be exceedingly-to-ultra competitive, I predict that within two years, most will see their acceptance rates rise and applications drop, reversing, respectively, the relentless fall and rise of those venerable benchmarks.

3. “Prestige" influence will morph toward “parsimony." Instead of Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines, we'll see Meltdown 1: The Rise of the State Universities. The mistaken belief that “To be successful, you gotta have an 'Ivy' degree" will be replaced by “What's the most economical path for a college education?" Value will rule. Of course, the Law of Supply and Demand will then kick in and the schools that currently offer the best values in higher education will become more costly, for whatever reason. Imagine a day when your friends and relatives will sigh with envy as you proudly say, “I just got my fat envelope from Eastern Washington University!"

Remember Johnny Carson's character Carnac the Magnificent? Carnac would hold the envelope containing the question to his forehead and intuit the answer. Then, with a flourish, he would open the envelope and read the question. For example:

Answer: Gatorade

Question: What does an alligator on welfare get?

In any case, I'll ask for the envelope, please . . .

Answer: The good old college days.

Question: What's never coming back?

Question: You know what's really funny about that?

Answer: It's no laughing matter.

Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.