Linda:
Last week, a couple of friends invited me to join them to see a screening of Ivory Tower  that included a discussion panel with the director, Andrew Rossi. The documentary is about the cost of college, is it worth the cost, how did we get here, and more.

I didn’t want to go. Normally, I will go along with friends just for the socialization aspect of an event, but I didn’t want to spend one more minute that I have to on this topic.

You see, by the time I’m done with the third kid I’ll have spent about $190,000 on college for them. And they also took out student loans! My husband and I didn’t believe in paying 100% of their education, so we budgeted and planned for spend up to two thirds of the cost (based on collegeboard.com‘s figures), up to $15,000 a year for four years. Well, that was for the first two. We increase it to $20,000 max for the last because the prices had gotten so outrageous.

So, why didn’t I want to go to the movie? Because it makes me irritated.

I know we discuss this more often now that Donna’s little one isn’t so little anymore and is heading off to college this Fall (August isn’t exactly Fall). My youngest kid will be starting her sophomore year, and the older two have graduated and I think (hope) are “launched.”

Here are some of my thoughts, and I know they are simplistic. But I hope there’s some nuggets of truth in what I have to say. My concerns are mainly about public colleges. The private will adjust when public education makes some correction that is badly needed.

• Students and parents need to understand their choices. This includes me. I always talked to my kids about when they “go off to college” not ever really emphasizing the local Cal State and UC campus. I realized I made a mistake a few years back. While I know that there is a great growing experience when living in a dorm, are they really worth that kind of money? Since I went to a local Cal State, I don’t really know what I missed I suppose.

Another example of me being the parent who loves to complain but need to look at how I got myself in this situation is how my oldest kid had a full scholarship to Cal State Long Beach. This included four years of tuition, room, board, parking, copying services, and $100 a semester towards books. She turned it down to go to UCLA and we were good with that (although we did have some sleepless nights, but hey, you want your kid happy, right? Retirement is overrated.).

•  Parents and students need to stop looking for state-of-the-art facilities that don’t have a direct impact on their education. Yes, if your child is going into a science or technology program, you don’t want them working with outdated equipment. Some of the recreational facilities, dorms, and resources the students have access to are amazing. Who do you think is paying for these facilities? I’m not saying that having a good gym with equipment, kayaks for the lake that’s a mile away, etc., shouldn’t be available. But if you’ve been on a school tour recently, you probably know what I’m talking about. Maybe I’m just jealous that these young people are having way more fun than me.

•  The Federal government needs to change their guidelines as to who the grant money is going to and which schools are able to accept the money. I really want to help those kids who don’t have the advantages my kids have had. But my kids went to school with students who drove very nice cars and lived in nice homes and received Pell grant money. I haven’t been able to figure out how that happens. On the other hand, I know one family who’s main breadwinner lost his job just as the oldest was a senior in high school. If I didn’t know about that, I would have assumed that they were working the system, but they really did need some help at that time.

Then there’s the private, what in my day we called vocational schools, that have embarrassing job-placement rates. I just read today that the Obama administration just suspended federal funds for Corinthian Colleges. What took them so long to do something about these scams? Some of these for-profit “schools” have been ripping off students, parents, and the taxpayer for years.

I really don’t know what the answer is to make sure those who need it have access and to screen out individuals and businesses who have learned how to manipulate the system.

•  Use the campus all week long. From our experience and from speaking with others, not that many classes are held on Fridays anymore. Buildings are often only used four days a week at many universities and community colleges. Maybe the school doesn’t need that new science building if they updated the current one and used it six days a week. Also, maybe additional classes can be added so that students can take the classes they need to graduate. Perhaps this will help the graduation rate get back to four years (only 39% are graduating in four years at all 4-year universities). It also might help students drink less, since Thursday has become the new Friday on college campuses.

I’m open to hear my thoughts are wrong. I’m forming these opinions almost entirely from my personal experience, therefore they are very biased. But if things don’t change, it really is going to be a system where the middle class, like my family, will have a very different experience than the poor and the rich. We are being squeezed out of the market.