Sophie's College Choice - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Sophie's College Choice

Sophie's College Choice

By Sean Braswell

SourceGallery Stock


Raising a child has always been a major financial undertaking, but putting more than one child through college may soon look like financial suicide.

By Sean Braswell

College may facilitate sex, but it depresses fertility. Whether by delaying marriage and childbirth or boosting the opportunity costs of having a child, the growing rate of college attendance among women is one of the reasons why the U.S. birth rate is at a record low. But there is one additional and increasingly significant way that college can discourage fertility: the exorbitant cost of sending a child to one in America.

You may think college tuition and fees are bad now, but consider what they will be like in the 2030s, when a baby born today would attend school. Not only will parents spend a minimum of $217,000 to raise a child to age 18, but, according to an analyis of 2011 College Board data by the Daily, tuition and fees for a graduate of the class of 2034 will top $288,000 (in today’s dollars) at an average-priced four-year private college and $123,000 at an average-priced public college.

If the sticker shock of a 2030s education does not make you think twice about having more than one child – it should.

This represents an increase of 111 percent and 167 percent, respectively, on what the class of 2012 paid in tuition. And even though most parents on average only wind up paying about 45 percent of the sticker price — thanks to grants, scholarships and students’ own contributions – if the sticker shock of paying for a 2030’s education does’t make you think twice about having more than one child, then it should.

President Obama promised last month that he will “shake up” higher education with an “aggressive strategy” aimed at making college more affordable. But with real incomes for most Americans already unable to keep up with the much faster growth of college tuition and fees, higher education is only going to get increasingly prohibitive for many middle-income families, and even more so for low-income households.

This is a far cry from most other developed nations, where the cost of college takes a far smaller bite out of a family’s income. In many European countries like Germany, Sweden, France and Norway — where a college education is considered a right and is heavily subsidized by the government — annual tuition and fees run from $500 to $900.

A number of factors are driving the increased costs in America, but it’s not the salaries of faculty members, which have remained stagnant at public colleges for over a decade. What has increased dramatically is the number of administrators in higher education — growing over 50 percent faster than the number of instructors, according to the U.S. Department of Education. A recent Wall Street Journal study of the University of Minnesota revealed that the public university added more than 1,000 administrators during the past decade and now boasts 353 administrators on its payroll making more than $200,000 a year.

So, before you think about trying for a second child, get out your calculators and see if that child’s education will mean taking on a second mortgage, flirting with financial ruin or seeking refuge in Sweden. And if you can’t get the numbers to work, then it might be worth taking some precautionary measures to ensure your long-term financial viability.

After all, vasectomies can be reversed, but college costs and administrators’ salaries go in one direction: up.

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