The College “Scam”

A few weeks ago, I participated in an online #TweetChat about the soaring costs of a college education and (more importantly) the astronomical debt loads that so many recent graduates are carrying with them as a result of their choice to pursue higher education.  It was very enlightening (and at times, even heated), with many of the participants in the unique position of being employed by an institution of higher education while carrying their own heavy debt from their undergraduate and/or graduate years.  (The full transcript is available here.)

But at the conclusion of the night’s conversation, I confess it wasn’t the average suburban student I thought about crumbling under a burden of debt.  I instead pictured the average equine science major – an image that is actually very specific in my mind because it’s of one particular young woman.  You see, two years ago (right around the time I decided to become an independent educational consultant), I visited an equestrian trade fair here in the Midwest.  There, I met a recent graduate of a very well-known and well-respected equine major program who told me quite candidly that she was carrying a student debt load (undergraduate only) of nearly $120,000.  But what was worse, the only job she had been able to secure with her equine degree was one mucking stalls for eight dollars an hour.

My knees nearly crumpled.

I’m not a math whiz by any means, but it was very clear to me that, barring a sudden (drastic) change of fortune, this young woman will carry that debt with her for the rest of her life.  As a professional horsewoman (a job she clearly had passion for), her earning potential would in no way allow her to make up what she owed – especially at eight dollars an hour!

Now, I’m not leaping onto my soapbox here so that I can wave my arms around and cry out that no one should major in an equine field or that college itself is one big rip-off.  Instead, what I hope I am getting across is the need for some practicality to into the college planning process for students and families alike – especially when dealing with the emotionally-charged decision-making that often accompanies the horse business.

The bottom line is that, in today’s challenging economic times, it’s still okay to go into the horse industry – and it’s still okay to go to college! – but what isn’t okay is to do so without a solid plan and an understanding of these three facts:

1) College tuition continues to increase annually.

2) Available financial aid (in the form of scholarships, grants, and loans) continues to decrease annually.

3) The old adage reminds us that, “The quickest way to make a small fortune in with horses is to begin with a large one.”

As a result, I encourage all of my families to begin the college planning process early and to examine schools with an eye toward value for price and career outlook for graduates.  (Over 400 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada have riding opportunities, so that part is often a component we examine later.)  Should some families need additional financial counseling, I also have several firms I can connect them with to support that side of their college search.  But at the end of the day, the primary goal is for everyone to go into the process with their eyes wide open so there aren’t any surprises at the end; for some, that might mean altering their college list to include more affordable choices and for others, that might mean eschewing an equine major for something with more diverse career prospects, like business.

Are you concerned about finding the right school and the right equestrian options without paying too much?  Contact me and I’ll help walk you through it!

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