Someone once asked me if my children got into an Ivy League school, would I do everything in my power — meaning borrow as much as I needed — to send them to the best colleges in America?
“Absolutely not,” I replied.
My husband and I have a “no college debt” rule for our kids and for us.
So when I read the news that a young man from Memphis turned down every Ivy League school (he got into them all) to go to the University of Alabama, I wasn’t as shocked as some people might be. He also turned down Stanford, Johns Hopkins and Vanderbilt universities.
Ronald Nelson made the choice because none of the other pricey prestigious schools offered him as much money as Alabama did — a full free ride and admission to its honors program. He and his parents decided that they didn’t want to go into debt for his college education.
Like many top universities, each of the Ivy League schools vows to meet the full financial need of any student who gets admitted,” Business Insider’s Peter Jacobs wrote. “However, this doesn’t mean they’re covering every student’s tuition. Rather, they use factors such as a family’s income, assets, and size to determine ‘demonstrated’ need.”
Nelson and his family looked at the facts. He was offered some aid from the other schools but not enough. He would have been okay for his freshman year, but he and his parents may have had to borrow to finish his undergraduate degree. So they opted for the free ride so that they could save money to pay for medical school.
This is what Nelson’s father said in an interview with Business Insider: “With people being in debt for years and years, it wasn’t a burden that Ronald wanted to take on, and it wasn’t a burden that we wanted to deal with for a number of years after undergraduate.”
And look at what Nelson said about his decision: “The Ivy League experience would certainly be something amazing, to make these connections, and have these amazing professors,” he said. “But I really do think I’ll be able to make the same experience for myself at the college I chose.”
Really smart young man.
If you or your child were faced with the same choice, what would you do? Send your comments to email@example.com. Please include your full name, city and state. I’d prefer comments not be anonymous.
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One person said it was like the weight of a mortgage or two.
Another said it’s easy to lose track of how much you are borrowing. And one graduate didn’t realize the daily interest that she would be charged.
Ron Lieber of the New York Times asked people to share their stories of what they wish they had known before borrowing money for college. “It’s obvious that too many families know too little about student loan debt,” Lieber wrote.
One graduate from Oklahoma Christian University with about $100,000 in student loan debt said: “College is a valuable investment, but that is an incomplete truth. It’s like I’m paying two mortgages with only one house.”
The one complaint Lieber said he repeatedly got: “Given the hopscotch manner in which students take on debt each year, loan by loan, it is much too easy to lose track of your running total.”
It’s well worth your time to read the observation from student loan borrowers.
Lots of you weighed in on last week’s Color of Money Question on the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty hosted at Georgetown University .
The Washington Post’s Emily Badger wrote about the panel discussion on poverty: “Much of our political rhetoric doesn’t simply disregard the poor, it actively disdains them. It treats them as takers, freeloaders, deadbeats. As morally weak and gleefully dependent. And like many narratives that are true in the rare anecdote but false on the whole, this one requires a whole lot of breathless storytelling.”
So I asked: What do you think it takes to help address the economic divide in America?
Here’s what some of you had to say:
“It is not showing ‘disdain for the poor’ to note the indisputable fact that poor individual life choices and behavior are major (albeit not the only) contributors to poverty,” wrote Clarke Brinckerhoff of Washington, D.C.
“I spent a few years as poor as a church mouse,” wrote Ellen Jefferies of Tryon, N.C. “Could and did feed a family of four on a 6-oz. can of tuna for a week. Didn’t own a car. However, I grew up in an upper-middle-class household, had a college degree, was smart and knew how to manage what little money we had. The problem of poverty is not just about money, it isn’t just about education, it isn’t just about role models, it isn’t just about values — it is about all of those. The reason you see so much ‘dis’ directed at the poor is because the perception that they are stuck where they are is pretty accurate, and in a world of increasing scarcity that is becoming more and more Darwinian (survival of the fittest), there’s a real belief that we can’t afford to try to fix what is so terribly broken.”
Richard Watt of Pleasantville, N.Y., wrote: “Disdain for the poor is basically an ignorant cheap shot. It’s been pointed out many times that the well-off did not get there by themselves. Many point to the education they received or the infrastructure that supports their businesses. I have a different take: God made them wealthy to see what they would do for the poor. Disdain is certainly not the right approach.”
“The best way to stop the cycle of poverty is to start with babies,” wrote Elaine U. Sloan of Fairfax, Va. “We have hundreds of programs for low-income and poor families, and we usually try to fix poverty by adding to them or tinkering with them. Most of them provide too little too late to change the course of generational poverty.”
Dan Riedford of Atlanta wrote quite a missive about the topic, and here are some of his most important points: “I think what it takes to address the economic divide in America can be expressed in one word — empathy. . . . A lot of the commentary I have seen and read recently seems to fall into the ‘blame the victim’ category, albeit unknowingly. People who grew up in limited circumstances understandably point to their own achievements in overcoming adversity through hard work and wonder why the young people they see on TV or read about in the papers can’t (or, more often they think, won’t) climb the same ladder to success. I understand their frustration, because I followed the same path that they did.”
Riedford continues: “The difference between them and me, I think, is that I recognize how completely society has changed in the 50 years since I was a boy. First and most importantly, I grew up in a household that included both of my parents. I could claim, as I see many others do, that I got where I am all by myself. But I know that’s simply not true. I had advantages that most poor children simply don’t have today and haven’t had for many years. It would take a massive national commitment to eliminate the deleterious effects of poverty in this country. I know that such a commitment is not likely to be forthcoming anytime soon. But we need to start somewhere. And that won’t happen until somebody figures out how to make the rest of the country see exactly what it is like to walk a mile in the shoes of the poor.”
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to www.postbusiness.com.