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Paying that tuition for the Elite Private University: Will it really open more doors?

 

20140408_174325pamelasFor those of you following my posts on college and college visits, thank you for your public and private comments. I hope this post will resonate with many of you and spark even more debate and discussion, so load up my comment box.

 

After our visits to Case Western Reserve, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, my house became somewhat of a house divided. The heated discussion perhaps at this point of the game was maybe pointless. We were at the beginning phases of the college search. My daughter has high grades but had yet to take those multiple college entrance exams. She hadn’t even applied.

But what if she applies to places like CMU, or my husband’s alma matter, an Ivy League institution, and gets in? My mother-in-law (don’t worry, she never reads my blog) has this crazy idea that my daughter should apply to Yale because they have a fantastic graphic and visual arts program. With tuition at these colleges averaging around $64,000 a year, for a field that is super competitive and mostly employed by freelancers who have to pay their own way for health insurance and retirement funds, I hope that my mother-in-law has a huge college fund set aside for her grandchildren that she has not yet told us about.

Granted, private universities have large endowments and are more likely to bestow deserving students with a generous financial aid package. Let’s look at CMU’s 2012-2013 financial aid profile:

Nearly 70 percent of incoming freshman applied for financial aid and of that group, 77 percent of them were found to have financial need and were awarded an average financial aid package of $35,000 per year.

That same week we visited Pittsburgh-area colleges, the New York Times published a troubling article that said that the elite colleges were becoming even more elite. This might be in part because of the new common application process, where students can fill out online a common application, tweak it just a bit according to each school’s requirements, and with a click – and an extra fee per college – can apply to numerous colleges all at once.

The article stated “….Deluged by more applications than ever, the most selective colleges are, inevitably, rejecting a vast majority, including legions of students they once would have accepted. Admissions directors at these institutions say that most of the students they turn down are such strong candidates that many are indistinguishable from those who get in.”

This article, plus the media coverage that has been pointing to a troubling trend for years that college debt is crushing a generation who can’t find work outside of becoming a barista at Starbucks upon graduation, made me pose the question to my husband – is that private university price tag truly worth it. Isn’t it fiscally responsible to get a great education at a quality state school over an expensive private school?

One take on that outlook is this: When looking at job applicants fresh out of school, those with the Ivy League or private colleges get looked at first, and those graduating from a state school have a greater chance of being overlooked.

For those of you who are graduates of a public state university, like me, that answer can really sting.

I posed this question and put it up for debate on my Facebook status. Got a slew of comments.

Some, who were Ivy League graduates in their 40’s, wondered if they would be accepted by their alma mater if they applied today. A fine arts graduate from CMU said she was accepted based on her portfolio and that parents need to “chill out.” There are “best schools” out there as far as status, but there is a school out there for every student which will serve them the best, and that may not necessarily be an Ivy League school.

Graduates of public state schools stood proudly by their alma mater and said from a regional standpoint, companies know the reputation of state schools in their area. Many managers are, in fact, products of those state schools. However, the grooming and the connections one gets at an Ivy League are clear advantages, some said.

So, there is no clear and dry answer.

My husband and I were still mulling this debate over when we went for breakfast at Pamela’s, in the lovely Shadyside neighborhood in Pittsburgh. As if by some cosmic fate in the academic universe, an older couple was watching us from a nearby table. They were admiring our three children as they wolfed down their pancakes and waffles and listened to our conversation about getting into college.

As it turned out, the gentleman was a mathematics professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

“Listen to me. Don’t waste your money if you have a great in-state public university at your doorstep.”

Which we do.

“I’ve seen so many kids burn out at places like CMU in the undergrad years. The University of Pittsburgh is a fine, fine university. Don’t go into debt,” he said, then turned to my oldest. “If you want the elite private school status, wait for graduate school, where if you get in, they will most likely pay your way through grants and scholarships.”

And with that, he paid his bill and the couple bid us a good day and good luck.

The issue: still up for debate. And I welcome your comments. 

 

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That college savings plan with those three little numbers – Part I

ImageHere is Part I of a two-part series about strategies for saving with a 529 plan I wrote for http://www.road2college.com.

Know that you can shop around for a 529 plan and you don’t have to use the one from your state. Some state’s plans perform higher than others.

They still might be in diapers and are learning to crawl, which makes it the perfect time to know your savings options. Learn more about how 11 states are offering those with very small children a prePaid plan which allows you to lock in at today’s tuition rates for your future college scholar.

You can read all about it by clicking here.

Feeling out of my League in the Company of Great Jewish Women

I’m going to start by saying this, bluntly:  If I was making money — real money — it would be good for the Jews. 

What I do now – educate the next generation of the Jewish community – is still good for the Jews. But, to be honest, it is still not as appreciated as a donation of the green stuff. I couldn’t help feel it this week when I attended a community fundraiser.

Now, I don’t play the lottery, I don’t gamble and I don’t believe in any get-rich-quick schemes. But, oh, if I were a rich girl, I would be so good at it. I would give a good part of it away.

But I’m not, and I can safely bet that with my liberal arts degree and my inability to get a career in public relations back on track after a decade raising our three children, I never will be. 

I am happily, yet vastly, underemployed. I work three jobs: two in Jewish education, one in my originally intended field of journalism. And, waking up to the news this morning on National Public Radio, that companies are no longer hiring the long-term unemployed or underemployed, it looks like this will be my status for some time to come, if maybe for good. 

I guess that, being a graduate of Rutgers University’s Douglas College, I was supposed to be a liberated, financially independent woman by now. I still feel I must make my own money. 

My dear husband constantly reminds me that what I do – teaching the Aleph Bet and all the holidays and traditions to Jewish children – is an invaluable service to my community. He also reminds me that without me to raise our children full-time, his career could never have ascended to what it is now.

Even so, I can’t help but look at my own net worth. If not for my husband’s income, my three jobs wouldn’t even put me at the poverty line.

This post may seem controversial to some and may get me in a bit of trouble. And I do so appreciate the power of women’s philanthropy and the generosity of the many women in my community who are of means, who are generous and who can wear the pins to show it.

But, I am sure I can speak for my fellow Jewish educators, and especially Jewish early childhood educators, our contributions, if you had to value them in the form of a monetary gift to the Jewish community,  are vastly overlooked.

According to the Jewish Early Childhood Early Education Initiative, today’s Jewish preschools are more than places that care for young children during the day – they are becoming centers to engage and re-engage children and their families in Jewish communal life.  Attracting and retaining educators to the field is critical. But, it is highly unlikely to attract and retain the best and the brightest with the current compensation packages. Early care and education has not been acknowledged as a part of the larger educational system in the United States. As such, early childhood teachers and caregivers are among the lowest-paying of all occupations (Barnett 2003).

But, meanwhile, back at the fundraiser… there I was, in the company of almost 300 women at my community’s major fundraiser for Jewish Women’s Philanthropy.   I have greatly benefitted from being actively involved in my Jewish community.  I have co-chaired committees. learned about event planning and the power of women’s philanthropy. 

In 2006 I received my community’s young leadership award from the Jewish Federation. I have attended the General Assembly of United Jewish Communities, thanks to my federation.  And for my work teaching older children in afternoon religious school, I was sent on a Jewish educator’s trip to Israel thanks to the Jewish Federation. The Jewish community, on a macro level, does its best to make Jewish educators feel valued.

And yet, I felt I could barely keep up in the chit-chat at the table. I had not been to Amalfi Coast, had not sent my kids on a leadership program to Austrailia. I couldn’t seem to make myself say, “wow, that must be expensive,” or “that is out of our budget, I’m afraid.”

Okay, I get it. It was a fundraiser and the point was to raise funds.  But, as I looked around the room, at the diamonds and all the bling-bling, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What am I doing here?”

Many women attending the event, by way of their husband’s occupation or their own professions, were significant donors. If the message of the evening was being powerful through donating one’s own money or a woman making a gift in their own name, presumably with their own money, the message of the evening left me feeling, well, powerless.

I enjoy going to these events because you get to hear from powerful Jewish women – news commentators, columnists, brilliant comedians, prominent Rebbetzins, (rabbi’s wives.) In past years they taught me how we need to teach Israeli culture to our children to make them feel connected to Israel. That if you shed a tear while you are praying you are doing it the right way. That, although children may show resistance to Hebrew school, parents must stand firm and make sure their child receives a Jewish education.

Each year, I left inspired, given tools to further my Jewish involvement.

And this year? There was no mention of parenting Jewish kids.  Israel — not even the singing of the Hatikva — was hardly mentioned – except a five day trip to the Jewish State this spring at a cost that is most likely out of my league as well.

The take away I got, and which I think other women felt of the speaker’s underlying message – is that if one marries a rich investment banker — you too can give millions away to the causes you care about.

As a Jewish educator who is not married to an investment banker, I’m sorry, ma’am, there was not much I could take away from your lesson. So, I will keep doing what I have been doing, for now, which is to make big gifts through every Hebrew word I teach, and every Jewish song I sing in the classroom.

For whatever it’s worth.

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