john anner

author, international development expert, fundraising strategist and avid explorer

The Harsh Reality of College Economics

John AnnerComment

It's an exciting time in my home, as my twin daughters have started hearing back from colleges to which they applied early action. The harsh reality, however, is that in most cases they simply won't be able to attend the schools they like best. We make too much money to qualify for financial aid, but not enough to pay for Tufts or MIT, or indeed most selective colleges. We have still not paid what we borrowed for the first daughter's tuition and fees.

Most of the time, I'm quite happy being on the upper side of the middle-class spectrum and with my decision 30 years ago to locate my life in the social sector. Property taxes and college tuition, however, make me wish I had sold my soul and gone to work for more money somewhere. For families like mine, no matter how smart your kids are, they are probably not going to Harvard. They can get in, but not afford.

There is no more merit aid at the top-tier universities or at the University of California. UC now costs $30,000 a year, and in many cases students cannot graduate in four years. We were told by admissions officers to plan on five years, since freshman and sophomores cannot get into the classes they need to graduate until they are juniors, seniors or in year 5. So add this up: $30K x 5 x 2. Equals $300,000.

Tufts, my alma mater, where I met with a financial officer, runs almost $70,000 a year now. Times 2 = $140,000. Per year. Total cost would be $560,000.  No merit aid is offered. The very pleasant person I spoke with suggested that either I take out a lot of loans (from whom?), or that we all skip the frustration and just not apply.

My kids are brilliant, highly motivated students with GPAs over 4.0, outstanding test scores, and a long history of engagement in sports and the arts. They will be accepted at most of the colleges they apply to, and win scholarships. But even with the academic merit scholarships they are getting, we are still looking at somehow finding $100,000 a year so they can both attend the schools of their dreams. 

I know, I know. First world problems! In the grand scheme of things, we are some of the luckiest people on the planet. But still. It breaks my heart. They have worked so hard, and done everything right.