Savvy PR combined with slick marketing practices got some of the blame in the college debt crisis time bomb story on the front-page story of yesterday’s New York Times. The description of college loans as “good debt” is the major PR pitch. The reality for many students: mountains of good debt must be repaid along with existing "bad debt."
There was much talk about good debt and tremendous packages of financial aid at a college night that I recently attended with my daughter. Tulane University’s rep handed out a brochure with “Beaucoup Scholarships. Plenty of Aid. And the Local Flavor Free” on its cover. It sounded great.
The New Orleans-based university estimates that the total one-year cost for a student living on campus is $56,484 plus transportation. Average aid package amounts to $28,565, a loan of $6,852 is included in that amount. Loans ranged from $875 to $12,500, meaning a Tulane grad -- assuming she is out in four years -- could be $50K in the hole at graduation. Free local flavor is the only thing that rings true in the Tulane pitch.
Amherst College wants prospective students to know that the $58,494-to-$60,944 annual budget is a bargain. It notes the actual cost of educating a student is $85,000. Geez, should a student feel guilty about attending Amherst? The Massachusetts liberal arts college admits “college is expensive,” but believes its annual $37,564 aid package ranks “among the most generous in the nation.”
Reps from Sarah Lawrence College, Boston College, New York University, Columbia, Duke, Occidental, Wesleyan University and Yale also milked good debt and generous aid line.
The loneliest person at the fair was the staffer from the City University of New York’s Macaulay Honors Program.
Macaulay tuition is zero and includes housing plus a $7,500 opportunity grant. The admission process to the program with more than 200 majors is very, very selective. I chatted with the Macaulay rep, thinking my last name may score a couple of points on my daughter’s application. No dice, I was told. She did appreciate the visit.
Tulane boasts that “it is not cheap, nor should it be.” What's the best PR strategy for Macaulay? The program should charge a couple of thousand in tuition and tack on fees to grab the attention of students. It could then offer full scholarships.