The High Cost of Cultivating Potential in Our Kids

Last updated: 12-10-2020

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The High Cost of Cultivating Potential in Our Kids

????Students aren’t the only ones going into debt to pay for college. So, too, are parents.

Some $101 billion in loans to parents are outstanding through the federal government’s Parent Plus program. That’s $30 billionmore than just five years ago. And $10 billion more than two years ago.

More on why and where those students are going to college in today’s newsletter.

???? Help us improve this newsletter: Take ashort, nine-question surveyabout NEXTand be entered into a drawing for one of four Amazon gift cards.

???? TOMORROW, two can’t miss virtual events for parents:

✅ Paying for college. Join me, the head of financial aid at Emory University, and the author of The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price at Noon ET for a discussion about how families can find the right financial fit in a college as part of AIG’s Financial Wellness Webinar Series.

✅ Applying to college. At 7 p.m. CT, as part of the Family Action Network, I’ll be in conversation about who gets in to college and why with the Wall Street Journal’s Melissa Korn. Melissa is also the co-author of Unacceptable, the new book on the Varsity Blues scandal.

The pressure that families feel to pay huge sums for what they see as the “right college” is real. It’s something I witnessed often while reporting my book. Students and parents — sometimes in tears — visiting their high-school counselors going over financial aid packages with just weeks before a deposit was due for a spot in the freshman class.

What’s happening: The package of grants and loans provided by an institution usually falls short of what’s really needed to pay for college. Many families look elsewhere for help. Often they turn to a Federal Plus loan.

Why it matters: Parents have been going to extraordinary lengths to fulfill the college dreams of their kids.

The big picture: Last week, the Wall Street Journalanalyzed data on Plus loans, released for the first time by the U.S. Education Department.

Student loan debt is often cast as an investment in one’s future. A college graduate has decades to pay off their debt.

Behind the numbers: While the median amounts in the Wall Street Journal were eye-popping on their own, I wondered about how prevalent the loans were at some schools and how they might contribute to family debt.

In culling through his visualization, I found a few examples to highlight here. (I chose Harvard as a counter-example to show how at wealthy institutions few students or parents need to take out loans.)

Survey #1: What Students Think of the Fall

Unfortunately for many institutions, the months of preparation for the fall academic term have yet to produce any dramatic improvements. Students continue to view online learning as the poor cousin of the traditional in-class experience, according to a survey by Top Hat.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend the college experience for students and educators, more than half of faculty are experiencing symptoms highly-correlated with workplace burnout according to a Course Hero survey of more than 570 full- and part-time faculty at two- and four-year colleges and universities. (

Plans on paper don’t always translate to actions of undergrads. Boston U.’s president talked with Michael Horn and me for the FutureU podcast about his August anxiety coming back, especially after what happened at UNC-Chapel Hill. (

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