New book exposes realities of college expenses and results


In just a few months, it’ll be that time of year again.

Time when everybody asks you what was in the package you got, the one you’ll open with excitement. Time for good cheer and (admit it) some disappointment, surprises and things you definitely want.

Yes, we’re talking Fat Envelope Season, the time when you learn which college accepted you. It’s a period of great excitement … and fear because Fat Envelope Season generally means a skinny wallet. In the new audiobook “College (Un)Bound” by Jeffrey J. Selingo, you’ll learn how to go lean.

So you say you want a degree in nursing or law? Or maybe video gaming is more your style, or a degree in surfing? That may be possible, since today’s colleges are creating degrees for jobs that didn’t exist before or that didn’t used to need a degree.

Selingo indicates, however, that getting a degree doesn’t always mean better work from you or for you after graduation. Part of that problem is because “heightened focus on the student as customer is leading to a… dumbing down of college campuses.” Millennials who tend to expect rewards for effort rather than for work are also to blame.

Nonadministrative amenities and student services certainly increase the cost of college without adding to education. Also, a bachelor’s degree “has become the new high school diploma,” which can ultimately lead to a need for a second degree in order to compete in today’s world ­— which, of course, costs.

Combating these issues is do-able: first, know what you’re borrowing and what it buys. Use the college’s website calculator; lack of money is the number one reason why students don’t graduate. Know how much debt your college has taken on; in fact, learn everything possible about your school, including its priorities, graduation employment rate and the “mobility of credits.”

Look for a college that allows credit for a MOOC, or offers self-paced or “personalized” classes. Consider taking a gap year. And choose your major based on what you love, not on how much money you might make someday.

After listening to “College (Un)Bound” on CD, it wouldn’t surprise me if I learned that a lot of people might get angry at what’s here.

Parents, I think, will be outraged when they discover what their second mortgage pays for at college. Selingo is also editor at large at the Chronicle of Higher Education, so he’s well aware of where those tuition dollars go.

Students will be angry that attending college might not mean an education; more than a third of fourth-year students in one study lacked improvements over their freshman scores in critical skills. And college officials will be upset because Selingo says that the problems won’t go away without tough actions — none of which are pleasant.

If you’re filling out forms this fall and anticipating good tidings of great joy, then listen to this audiobook first. It might save you money and heartache. For you and your family, “College (Un)Bound” could make a big fat difference.

View publishes Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of books for teens and children weekly.