College: What are you paying for?

My-College-ExperienceIt has become fashionable to bash the outrageous cost of college. As a father of three soon to be college bound students, I empathize.

But when providing college counseling, I try to get my parent-clients to understand the difference between the experience and the outcome.  They, then, can sort out what colleges are worth the expense.

A client interaction from a few years ago (all names/details changed, as always) illustrates the challenge.

Mr. Snyder opened the meeting by saying that unless his son was admitted to an Ivy or near-Ivy league school, he was going to attend UCONN for college. The University of Connecticut is an outstanding state school. As Connecticut residents, we are very fortunate to have our flagship state university be among the very best state schools in the nation.

Jimmy Snyder, his 17 year old son who attended Xavier High School in Middletown, objected immediately: “I really want to leave Connecticut.” Mrs. Snyder sympathized with her son and expressed her desire for him to be in a different place with different types of people so that he could grow as a person. Mr. Snyder retorted that the cost-benefit analysis for job outcomes did not make sense unless he went to a top 20 college.

The Snyders started arguing.

I intervened and pointed out that they were arguing about what they thought was worth paying for in a college.   Mr. Snyder was focused on the outcome. He was paying for the likelihood of better employment opportunities after college. Mrs. Snyder was focused on the experience during college as well the lasting effects of the experience thereafter.

Is it worth spending $10,000 or $20,000 or $30,000 more per year so that your child can experience life in a state other than Connecticut? That’s your call. My role as a college counselor is not to provide my view on what is worth paying for but rather to help families understand how to rationally navigate the issue.