College, but at what cost?

Any long-time reader of this blog knows that we think preparing students for the academic rigors of post-secondary education is a critical ingredient in the college success equation. However, the financial barriers to college enrollment and completion can’t be underestimated by anyone (or any organization) serious about trying to increase the college completion rates in this country.

That’s why I found this column in the Hechinger Report by Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, particularly moving. Lehmann says this was one of the best years yet for Science Leadership Academy when it came to college acceptances – and yet moving from acceptance to enrollment was an open question for many students due to issues with cost. Lehmann describes sitting with one student who had been accepted to her top-choice college, but was facing the prospect of taking on $200,000 in student loan debt in order to enroll – a loan burden that would require her to pay $1,500 a month until she was 52.

Lehmann argues that colleges have a moral responsibility to put together aid packages that allow students access to a college education – and the opportunity that comes with it – at a price that doesn’t saddle them with ruinous debt payments for decades after graduation.

Frankly, I think it’s a pretty fair argument. The professional world is increasingly weighted toward people with college degrees; limiting access to those degrees only to those who have significant financial resources is bound to create an even more financially polarized country than even the current state of affairs. I’m not sure what the solution is, but I think it’s an issue we can’t lose sight of as we work to ensure that all students are on a path to college success.