“But if I work full-time and cut down on my living expenses I can afford it, right?”

As she pleads for me to understand all I do is shake my head and mouth the words “NO!”

To give you some background I have a friend, for this post I will call her Ashley, who has set her eyes on an expensive, east coast school. For quite awhile now she has been dissatisfied with the college she is currently attending and plans to transfer to the east coast school. Ashley is so enamored with the school that she has already found a job in the college town and secured off-campus housing. All of this comes before an acceptance letter and more importantly before factoring the cost of attendance at the out-of-state institution.</p>

This past week Ashley’s financial aid package arrived and reality finally set in.

First there was anger: “HOW CAN THEY CHARGE THIS MUCH?”

Next there was disappointment and resignation: “I can’t possibly afford this!”

Finally she tried to rationalize the situation: “Well, if I attend for one semester then take a year off I can save enough to make tuition the next year.”

Here are the facts: Ashley comes from modest means. Her household income is some where around $60,000 dollars. Unfortunately, for Ashley to receive the maximum Pell grant amount of $5,500, her household income cannot exceed $23,000 dollars. Therefore the most aid she can collect from the federal government is through subsidized loans. Government loans are helpful because they offer lower interest rates compared to private loans; however, they need to be paid back in full some day. This is not the break that Ashley was looking for.

Besides problems with financial aid, Ashley also resides in Ohio and the school she wishes to attend is in Massachusetts. This is another factor often forgotten by students when examining the high tuition that comes with being an out-of-state student. States typically subsidize the cost of higher education for instate students so, if you are an out-of-state student you will pay the full sticker price unless scholarships are offered.

The timing of this blog post is critical. Currently, our federal legislatures are deciding how to keep student loan interest rates from rising. Many states have already cut back on funding to state schools and will continue to cut back on funding as a way to close their state budget gaps. In response schools across the country will transfer the cost to students.

Today, the average student leaves college with 23,300 dollars in debt. In the past students could graduate with steady jobs and repay their debts in full within a lifetime. Presently the economy that students will graduate into is an economy where the job market is more competitive and lucrative offers do not come as easy.

I am not saying that a college education is not worth the cost. It is worth the investment and I believe most students who plan on going to college should hold degrees from four-year residential institutions, but we must all remember the realities we face. As students in a struggling economy we must balance out two competing interests: Quality versus Cost. A proactive plan will account for the ever rising cost of education and seek a credible institution with track record of success.