Costing out a challenge

The hand-lettered sign on a Swampscott High School Class of 2018 student’s cap Sunday read “Game Over — Insert $30,000 to continue.”

This sample of teenage humor tinged with cynicism captures a major concern for American students and the people helping to support them in an age of skyrocketing, almost absurdly astronomical, tuition costs.

The student who thought up the clever cap decoration slightly low-balled his tuition estimate: The College Board’s calculation for the average private college this year is $34,740 a year. The average tuition annually for a four-year public college is $23,900.

Expensive or not, college is still the next step for many high school students walking across stages in caps and gowns this spring. Getting to college requires parents and children to calculate one of the most daunting financial expenses of their lives and scamper to find an array of scholarships, loans and other support to make college a reality.

GIs who returned to America from Europe and the Pacific 70 years ago went to work, started families, and attended “night school” to better themselves and acquire degrees required to make the leap from blue collar trades to white collar professions and from urban apartments to suburban Ranch houses.

The children of these night school graduates became second-generation college students even as college attracted new crops of first-generation students born to parents who in their wildest dreams never imagined going to college.

Colleges are now undergoing a transformation that finds small schools like the former Marian Court in Swampscott folding up their tents in the face of high costs. The transformation also encompasses tuitions that saddle college graduates with ever-expanding student debt loads.

The Project on Student Debt posting online lists the average student debt load for 2017 as $30,100. The same college degree that provided a ladder to their grandparents has latched a ball and chain around the ankles of today’s college students.

But as Swampscott School Superintendent Pamela Angelakis observed on Sunday, any real achievement requires investment. The maximum effort that college requires is matched by a financial cost that, Angelakis reminded Swampscott’s Class of 2018, generates a payoff.

Never one to sugar coat advice, Angelakis told the graduates that life ” …will stretch you to the limit…” but the challenge is worth it.

For Swampscott graduates and all others this spring, let the game of life begin in earnest.

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