College For Autism Children

Autism, a neurological-based developmental disability, affects an estimated one in 166 people, according to a 2004 study by the Centers for Disease Control Prevention. Both children and adults with Autism typically show difficulties in verbal and nonverbal communication, social interactions and leisure or play activities, according to the Autism Society of America. Autism affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.

Experts agree on the following advice upon detection of Autism:

1. Seek immediate treatment for your child.

2. If possible, find someone to work with the child at least 20 hours a week, i.e. a therapist, teacher, parent, grandparent or someone from your church or group. Look for progress after one month.

3. Do not allow the child to sit and watch TV all day. Get them engaged and play as many games as possible that require taking turns.

4. New parents learning they have an autistic child must recognize immediately that they cannot do it all by themselves. They should immediately contact Autism societies or chapters to find resources, join support groups and talk with other families about their experiences.

5. Help the child to develop their areas of strength, particularly among high-functioning students with Asperger’s Syndrome (a neurobiological condition characterized by normal intelligence and language development with deficiencies in social and communication skills), and get them job experiences during high school.

Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia is one of the few colleges in the US that has a special program in their Autism Training Center, which works with Autism spectrum disorders like Aspergers. Although many colleges have counselors and staff familiar with Autism, only Marshall has a program tailored specifically for autistic students. The program serves three of the university’s 16,360 students and may eventually accommodate 10; it will remain small by choice.

“The goal is not for all students with Autism to attend Marshall, but for the program to become a model for other colleges,” says Barbara Becker-Cottrill, the Center’s director. “The true goal is for students to have the ability to attend the university of their choice. Our work will be working with other universities on how to establish a program such as this on their own campuses.”

Kim Ramsey, the Marshall program’s director, had this to say, “The problem is, social and daily living issues are interfering.”

This is not to be confused with a special education program. Like all students, they must meet and maintain the university’s academic standards. The Center offers tutoring, counseling, a quiet space to take exams, and help in the navigation of the bureaucracy and social world of college, i.e. how to schedule classes, join clubs, buy books and replace ATM cards that don’t work.

In a recent issue of the bimonthly, Asperger’s Digest, Lars Perner, an assistant professor of marketing at San Diego State University who has Asperger’s Syndrome, said, “How many college students have forms of Autism is impossible to determine as many go undiagnosed or are simply perceived as a little bit strange. The exact cause is unknown, although both genetics and environmental factors are suspected of playing a role. Some of these students might be able to get into college because of fairly strong academic credentials and a reasonable academic showing. That may not mean they will be able to stay in college.” Perner is also the author of a college selection guide.

Sadly, most autistic students either drop out or don’t even apply to college because they have difficulty with such tasks as doing all the paperwork, time management, taking notes and sitting for exams. Stephen Shore, who is finishing his doctoral degree in special education at Boston University and has been diagnosed with atypical development with strong autistic tendencies, said, “More programs like Marshall’s were needed. I think they would do much better and there would be a much higher rate of success if this type of program were available elsewhere.” However, as researchers learn more about Autism and public school services for Autism improve, more autistic students will graduate from high school and be academically, socially and emotionally prepared for college.

College Selection – Your Number One Priority

The following must be considered, but only after the family has visited the campus and is convinced their student will be able to “survive” at that school:

1. Accommodations: If proper accommodations are not made available to the student, then it would be futile to attend that particular college.

2. Curriculum: Ideally, there will be enough areas of interest for the student.

3. Setting: Urban or rural, close to home or far away, and a large or small student body are all issues that must be factored in.

4. Cost: Last but not least; like the 5th C when searching for that perfect diamond – is the cost. Paying for college is actually the easy part, because no matter what, you can borrow the money! And never lose sight of the fact that all the financial aid in the world is useless without that coveted admission ticket!

Some other criteria that should be particularly important for autistic students include:

1. A highly structured academic program

2. A second-to-none disabilities services program (or its equivalent)

3. A willingness to be flexible

4. Support for individual needs and a centralized counseling center

Experience with Autism is helpful, but the most important characteristics of the disabilities services program and counseling center are the commitment to providing individualized support and a willingness to learn about each student’s disability and needs. Because of the learning differences of students with high functioning Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome, they often benefit from tutoring, organizational and personal support services.

Sometimes, a smaller school is easier for students who learn better in a smaller and quieter environment. For students who will find the degree of independence and organization required for living at college to be intimidating, it can be helpful to live at home for the first year or two of college, and gradually make the transition to more independent living. Some colleges offer cooperative education programs, in which students alternate between taking academic courses and working in related jobs. Such programs have the ability to help students explore potential careers and develop essential work skills.

Academic Assistance and Accommodations

In college, students are given the responsibility of advocating for themselves. They can receive support from the disabilities services program or not, but they will have to be able to make many decisions for themselves.

In many colleges, the disabilities services program will write a letter to relevant professors indicating that a student has a disability and may need special accommodations. This letter might be the student’s responsibility to give to the professor, or it might be sent out to each professor. In either case, it is then likely to be the student’s responsibility to follow up with the professor and request specific help.

Many students will need coaching and support in order to do this. Some counselors may be willing and able to help, others will not. In many instances, it will be necessary and helpful to have a tutor. The disabilities service center will usually be able to assist with the required services.

Academic accommodations have been helpful as well as necessary for some students with Asperger’s High Functioning Autism because they need a little longer to process information and organize responses. This can mean that they will take a little longer in responding to questions in class and should receive the required extra time on quizzes, tests and exams. Due to difficulties in processing and screening sensory information, a distraction-free environment may be important for ongoing studying and for taking exams.

Seating is often important in lecture halls. Sitting at or close to the front and sometimes in the center of the row, can make it easier to hear and understand. Some students find it easier to sit near the front but in an aisle seat, so that they have a bit more room to spread out and are less likely to be bumped.

Seating is sometimes on a first-come, first served basis daily, or for the entire semester. If this is the case, students should get to their first class early, or try to make preparations in advance. Some professors prefer assigned seating for the entire semester. In that case, students may need to talk to the professor in order to arrange for their special seating needs.

Some professors include class participation as a component of the grade and require recitals in front of the class and/or working together as part of a group. Such class requirements can be challenging for students with difficulties in oral communication or working together with others. In anticipation of this, students should be advised to talk to the professor about their disability early in the semester in order to attain special accommodations, if necessary, and the support and understanding of the professor which is always necessary.

Getting Organized

Most students with Autism spectrum disorders need clear, systematic organizational strategies for academic work and most likely for all other aspects of daily living. Calendars, checklists and other visual strategies for organizing activities should be developed with the student.

Course Selection

Many students with Asperger’s/High Functioning Autism will excel in courses that draw on factual memory and/or visual perceptual skills. An intuitive counselor or advisor can help guide the student to a curriculum that will capitalize on his or her strengths and interests.

The most difficult and challenging courses are those that require abstract verbal reasoning, flexible problem solving, extensive writing, or social reasoning. Such courses may be valuable to take, but could require extra time and support.

In her book, Pretending to be Normal, Liane Willey, an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome, recommends taking courses in communication and psychology in order to improve social understanding and skills. “It is often wise,” she advises, “to audit a course if it would take a long time to master the material.”

A somewhat relaxed class load is often the best course of action, especially during the freshman year when everything is new. For some students, a reduced course load can help keep the stress levels more manageable.

A related issue is that many students with Autism need extra time for thinking about problems and for completing work. This means they will need more time than most students for reading and doing assignments. This should be taken into account in planning a student’s course load so they will not be overwhelmed, which could have adverse consequences.

Social Groups and Activities

For some students, living on their own may be overwhelming as they often need more support than most freshmen for making social connections. All campuses have organized social groups and activities. Most students with high functioning Autism/Asperger’s will enjoy participating in some of these, but will need guidance with finding the right groups and introductions.

Always consider the student’s strengths and interests when looking for groups and activities. It might be beneficial to have someone, perhaps an older student, a mentor or advisor point out groups that would be of interest and help with the initial steps of becoming a participant. It may also be possible to mobilize other resources through Student Services, residence advisors and service organizations on campus.

Dorm Life

For many students with high functioning Autism, it is preferable to have a single room. This will provide a sanctuary where they can control their environment, focus on their work and daily activities without distraction, and not be forced to engage in social interaction all the time. Having a roommate can be highly stressful, and most experts agree that to be without one initially is the best choice. However, it is strongly recommended to have a mentor nearby.

When the student is in agreement, it can be helpful to inform the residence staff of their disability and the areas in which support may be needed. It is best if the student can discuss their disability with peers. It can also be helpful to meet with other students in adjacent rooms to discuss why their behavior may appear to be odd at times.

The Daily 9-5

It will prove most helpful to identify the likely pitfalls and provide the student with written guidelines and checklists in addition to advance preparation and training. The following are various aspects of daily life on the average college campus.

1. Meal plans and their rules; where to eat at non-meal times

2. Laundry

3. Spending money; budgeting

4. Using a campus ID and/or charge card

5. Dorm rules

6. Handling fire drills at any hour, especially in the middle of the night

7. Using communal bathrooms

8. Transportation

9. Campus maps

10. Locating security personnel

11. Finding rest rooms

12. Using an alarm clock

13. Campus mail, e-mail and instant messaging usage

14. Library hours and how to get help from a librarian, and for that matter, anyone else

15. Lecture hall procedures

16. Learning about and participating in dorm activities

17. Student health services

18. Medical, non-medical emergencies and non-emergency procedures

19. First aid and how to take care of oneself during a minor illness (including how to get liquids and food when they’re under the weather)

20. Finding time for physical exercise is important for many, not only for health reasons but also to help with stress management.

Plan Far In Advance

Thinking about these issues years in advance is necessary; doing something about it is mandatory! As part of the Individualized Education Plan process, each student should have a transition plan to learn the skills necessary for college. Many important skills that will facilitate success in college can be taught and practiced at home and while the student is still in high school. It is important that the student understand what his or her learning needs are, and the types of accommodations that will be helpful.

In college, students will probably find it helpful to talk to advisors and professors about these issues. This will be easier to do when it has been practiced in the more supportive environment of the home and the high school. At home, high school students should be learning and practicing daily living and independence skills so they will be able to be successful in college…

 

Step To Preparing College

It is never too early and it is never too late to start thinking about college. Nevertheless, early is always better.

What are you and your child doing to prepare for college?

THE EARLY YEARS

Begin college preparation in kindergarten, young students are receptive to thinking about college. Spend the early years exploring study methods, reading and experiencing life, find opportunities that increase curiosity and open the mind to creative and organized thought processes. Foster goal oriented thinking and time management skills in the child, so in the future they will have the tools to keep themselves on task.

Young students are especially successful at learning languages and music, even a child as young as four or five can start taking piano or keyboard lessons. If you have the means to expose them to a second language through travel or tutoring, give it a try, children can pick up second languages much faster than adults.

Of course, it is never too early to open a college savings account.

JUNIOR HIGH

By junior high, students should have a solid understanding of mathematics and be able to compose logical, grammatically correct essays.

Establish a college savings fund or other fund designed specifically for higher education if you haven’t already, this is a good time to start. See your local bank or credit union to find an account that offers the best rate. Parents should discuss investments and deposits to the college fund with the child, it is important that they understand the realities of how much college and living outside the home costs.

Children at this age are capable of visualizing their own future independent of parents, and strive for a decision-making role in their own lives. Recognize and respect uniqueness, support interests and allow them to evaluate opportunities. Of course, teenagers might think they know everything, so before they make a choice, ask them carefully thought out questions to guide them to a logical and informed decision.

HIGH SCHOOL

In high school, curriculum, grade point average and extracurricular activities become important factors in regards to college entrance requirements and scholarship opportunities.

Generally, most colleges desire that the student successfully complete the following basic subjects in high school:

 

  • 4 years of English

 

  • 3 years of Math, including Algebra and Geometry

 

  • 3 years of history and social sciences

 

  • 2 years of lab sciences

 

  • 2 years of a foreign language

 

College Guidance Counselor: Students should begin meeting with a guidance counselor at the beginning of 9th grade to ensure that all of the proper course work is taken, maintain a relationship throughout high school. Often the counselor can provide information on college entrance exams and scholarship information.

A Note on Mathematics: Since many students struggle to retain their math skills, it is unwise to skip math in the senior year. Forgetting valuable information before taking placement exams, Advanced Placement Tests, the SAT or ACT could prevent the student from receiving a high score or require them to take a remedial math class in college.

Quite often parents have forgotten their advanced math course work and do not have the skills to help with homework, so investing in a tutor could prove beneficial. Usually a knowledgeable and affordable tutor can be found at a local university or junior college.

One way to keep math skills sharply honed, instead of four years of math, is by taking a year of trigonometry, algebra or calculus based physics. Many bachelor degree programs only require statistics or intermediate college algebra, so even if the student does not make it through calculus in high school, for most programs they will be adequately prepared with intermediate algebra, geometry and trigonometry.

The Essay: Learning to write essays well will help students to succeed in college and most scholarship applications will require an essay of some sort. Even math or microbiology majors write essays, so learning to write a good essay is paramount.

Honor Classes: Colleges not only look at grades, but also the coursework, quite often a B grade in an advanced placement class or an honors class will carry more weight than an A grade in a regular class. So even if the curriculum is more challenging, enroll in honor level class or advanced placement classes whenever possible.

Extracurricular: Colleges look for well-rounded students who contribute to their community. Extracurricular activities whether in sports, student government, art or volunteer work enriches school and life experiences, provides the opportunity to learn teamwork and connects students to the community in which they live.

Sometimes competition to get on high school sports teams excludes students from participating, if this is the case, look for other activities such as karate, dance or intramural teams. Often students as young as 16 years of age can enroll in local university/junior college courses in subjects such as rock-climbing, kayaking or racquetball.

Student government provides leadership skills, colleges look for students that have held a student officer position, participated as a class representative or in campus clubs.

Some students enjoy participating in local theatre productions or taking art classes.

Volunteer opportunities are unlimited, look around in the community and find something of interest. Better yet, if there is an unmet need in the community, create the solution.

Employment: Consider summer employment to assist with college expenses and to learn valuable work skills and responsibility. Colleges especially favor young entrepreneurs.

Mentoring/ Job Shadowing: It is never too early to research real-life employment situations. If a student thinks they want to be an accountant, find a willing accountant in the community that can answer questions about the day-to-day realities of their job and the training required to perform their duties. Quiet often too much time is spent thinking about a dream job without researching the realities. Half way through college or after graduation is too late to start investigating career choices. So before valuable time and money is wasted, evaluate career choices thoroughly.

Letters of Recommendation: In the junior year, after establishing good relationships with teachers and leaders in the community, ask for letters of recommendations to accompany college and employment applications.

COLLEGE ENTRANCE EXAMS

Most colleges and universities require either SAT or ACT scores and the PSAT qualifies students for the National Merit Scholarship. Contact the selected universities and inquire about which exam they require. However, do not limit the opportunity of attendance at a different university, take both exams, so all options are available. Do not let financial hardship prevent the student from taking these tests, talk to the guidance counselor about a fee waiver. All of the exams can make accommodations for students with documented disabilities.

Scores: Every school has different score and GPA requirements. But usually it is a combination of the two, for example an exceptionally high exam score can give you a little room on your GPA, and vice versa.

PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test: Evalutes skills in critical reading, math problem solving and writing.

 

  • Registration for this test is not available online, contact the high school counselor for registration information.

 

  • Study through the first two years of high school and take this exam in the 10th grade.

 

SAT: Tests critical reading, math problem solving and writing skills.

 

  • Get a SAT Registration Booklet from the guidance counselor at the high school to register by mail, or go the College Board website to register online.

 

  • Study for this test through the 9th and 10th grade year.

 

  • Take SAT early in the junior year, so if the score is lower than desired there is plenty of time to retake.

 

ACT: Comprises multiple-choice sections that cover English, mathematics, reading and science. The test also offers a written test that evaluates a short essay.

 

  • Register by contacting a high school guidance counselor or go the ACT website.

 

  • Study for this exam through the 9th and 10th grade.

 

  • Take this exam in the 11th grade, so there is time for a retake if necessary.

 

How to prepare for the college entrance exams:

 

  • Read good books, magazines and timely news information

 

  • Take a preparation course

 

  • Purchase and use preparation software

 

  • Take practice tests

 

  • Increase your vocabulary, including roots, prefixes and derivations

 

  • Overcome test anxiety

 

  • Take challenging classes during high school years

 

  • Study and write essays,/li>Advanced Placement Tests: These tests can earn credit in college level courses and eligibility for an AP Scholar Award. Tests are single subject exams, offered in 35 different subjects, ranging from art history to physics to world history. These tests can be taken any year, but contact the AP coordinator, or call AP Services at 888-225-5427 to find the local AP coordinator and testing schedule.Financial Aid and Scholarships: Federal Pell grants are available for students who have financial need; qualification is based on parents’ income. To apply for the Pell grant call 1-800-4FED-AID or apply online at http://www.fasfa.com. Talk to the universities’ financial aid office to inquire about other funds, scholarships, grants and student loans. Tuition can be costly, but do not forget living expenses, which in some cases require more money than tuition and books.

    College Application: During the summer before the senior year, finish the final research on college selection and check on their website to find out the freshmen application date. Be sure to find out what other items they require such as, test scores, transcripts, letters of recommendation or other documents such as proof of disability or military status.

    LEAVING HOME

    Many kids will leave their parent’s home to attend college. Learning to balance life, schoolwork and employment is a difficult task for many students. So preparing for these issues before leaving home can greatly increase the chances for a smooth transition between high school and living at home to college and living on their own.

    Life Skills: Knowing how to write an essay or memorization of the quadratic formula will not help with day-to-day living, helpful skills to learn before leaving home include:

 

  • Basic cooking

 

  • Looking for and applying for a job, résumé preparation

 

  • Looking for and applying for an apartment, roommates

 

  • Budget and bill paying, filing taxes

 

  • Bargain shopping

 

  • Laundry and house cleaning

 

  • Street Smarts and self defense

 

  • Auto insurance, basic car maintenance

 

  • Using public transportation

 

  • Civic responsibility, local laws, voting and jury duty

 

  • Health care, patient rights, insurance and public health

 

  • Relationship and personal boundaries

 

Proper preparation can help guarantee success and a smooth transition to independence. Preparing for college and preparing for adult life should not be left to chance or with hopes that knowledge will come naturally during the high school years. Most of all, it is important to not limit opportunity and choice by bad preparation.

 

College Secret You Should Know

Those responsible for generating college entrance applications routinely quote studies that your earning power after graduation is higher than if you don’t attend a four year college or university.

Beyond the basic desire take that next step, there are some good reasons to get a college degree. If your chosen profession mandates it, you’re going to college. If your family history is with a particular school, and you’re determined not to break the tradition, off you go.

For most, however, college implies the expectation of future financial success and career mobility. Several years as a financial planner, educator and business person have taught me to challenge the assertions of large institutions like colleges and universities when their self-preservation is involved. When they are right, I freely admit it. When they are not, I discuss it.

There are at least five reasons – as far as your future is concerned – to challenge institutional marketing and thinking from colleges as either wrong, suspect or seriously flawed. Exploring these reasons as they relate to your future will serve as a protective factor in your decision-making. They could well confirm your decision to go to college or provide a sound basis for considering other options.

Timing

If you graduated from college in or near 1983, 1990 or 2009, you may already be keenly aware of the difficulty in finding not only a job in your major field, but also in finding a job at all. In each time period, there were a decent number of jobs to be had. The problem is that many of them paid the same income as if you were only a high school graduate. Current economic conditions are challenging, and that is being generous.

Youth unemployment is the highest in a generation. The unemployment and underemployment rate stands at about 18%. More and more, college graduates are heading home to move back in with their parents.

Colleges don’t address the issue of timing. They can’t afford to. They have a goal for admission applications they must hit to get the number of acceptances that help them meet their financial plan for the year. No offense to colleges and universities, but they have a business to run.

Real Earning Power

The sales tactic most common to all colleges and universities is to focus on your future earning power versus those with only a high school degree. They tell you that college graduates earn a higher annual income than non-college graduates. Colleges have technically earned the right to claim that as true if you consider the average income of all graduating seniors relative to those who never finished.

A liberal arts major, however, without a clear career path (not uncommon) is likely to experience dissatisfaction with the opportunities in the open marketplace following graduation. An accounting major, on the other hand, may have a position with a respectable salary waiting following graduation.

Doctors, nurses, some legal positions, accounting and some finance positions skew the average up. If you’re not working toward a profession with high demand and high rewards, you may find the market for jobs, and the resulting lack of earning power very unkind.

Don’t take the earnings numbers offered at face value. Dig harder and deeper. Explore opportunities for the fields of study that interest you. Learning for learning’s sake is good, but you can learn on your own and save $100,000 or more in the process.

Colleges don’t really talk to you about real or contextual earning power. It’s complicated and difficult to tie down to the individual. And in a sense, it is unfair to the college because they ultimately don’t control many of the factors that determine your success.

Debt

A recent article noted that as many as twenty percent (20%) or more of college graduates will file bankruptcy before age thirty or thirty-five. A significant factor for many is debt accumulated in obtaining a college degree. Beyond that, many accumulate additional debt after college on credit cards and automobile purchases rendering their additional buying power severely impaired. Bankruptcies and mortgage foreclosures are at an all-time high as of 2011. They are expected to continue unabated in 2012.

If you are making thirty-five percent more in income that you would had you not gone to college, but you are paying forty percent of it out in debt payments on non-appreciating or depreciating assets, how far ahead of the game are you?

Colleges infrequently address the issue debt you have to accumulate to go to school. They focus on the lifetime value of the degree so you’re sold by taking the long view – assuming you make wise decisions regarding debt, savings and your life plan.

Capacity to Save

Closely related to the debt and earning power is your capacity to save money for your future. There are two issues – 1) the capacity or resources available to be saved, and 2) the discipline to put a savings plan in place and execute it.

My father barely graduated from high school. I never saw him read a book. Through his barber shop, though, he saved money faithfully every month and built a solid life and retirement. As a result, he was able to adequately care for my mother who had Alzheimer’s disease over the last ten years of her life.

A close friend used to repossess cars early in his career. I was always fascinated at his stories about those with $300,000+ combined incomes who had to file bankruptcy because they spent everything they made every month. That’s $25,000 a month. Nothing went to savings. Credit cards were secured for the purpose of transferring debt as a short-term coping strategy. Marriages failed and families were ripped apart – literally and figuratively.

Ultimately then, earning power is not the issue. Lifestyle expectations and savings discipline make the difference.

Your Life’s Mission & Standard of Living

And that brings us to the issue of expectations. What do you want for yourself? What impact do you want to have on the world? What do you want money to do for you? How expensive are your tastes? Will you have the capacity to afford your desires? Can you delay gratification while you harness the resources to create the lifestyle you want?

Those without a mission and a plan tend to get used by those who do. That’s what marketing is all about. Colleges are fantastic at marketing. Colleges are ready to take your application. Banks and others are ready to lend you money to go.

If you have no plan and workable budget to help you achieve your vision, everything looks attractive, valuable and desirable. All the earning power in the world is irrelevant if you don’t work it into a purpose. If college doesn’t help you get to the place you need to be, it can be an enormous, expensive mistake resulting in the loss of valuable time and money.

Pay attention to timing, debt, the real issues behind earning power, your ability and desire to save money and what you want out of life. Consider these issues relative to a bill of $100,000 or higher for college; a personal investment of up to 12,000 hours to do the work; and the cost of the alternatives should you choose another path of interest. Doing so will increase your confidence in the decision to go to college, or it will appropriately redirect you to other options that might make more sense for you.

 

All About College Debt

“Had the people who started Facebook decided to stay at Harvard, they would not have been able to build the company, and by the time they graduated in 2006, that window probably would have come and gone.” – Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal.

Ever since I can remember, I was inculcated with the belief that in order to truly succeed in America, you have to get at least a 4 year degree from a prestigious university; even if it means taking on a ton of debt that you may work your entire adult life to pay off.

I also came to believe that if you really want to stay on the top of the heap, then you need to take on even more debt and get a graduate degree, hence my own post-graduate alphabet soup, including law school.

In high schools across the nation, statistics are still being trotted out by guidance counselors to “prove” that young people have no chance of success without that high-priced sheepskin, or that, if they somehow manage to land a job without one, they will never get promoted and will be stuck in bottom-of-the-ladder limbo land for all eternity.

Twenty years ago, the idea that “you have to go to college to make good money” might have been more truth than myth.

Now, though,, the ever-escalating cost of tuition, fees, and books at America’s universities means that post financial collapse parents might want to take another, perhaps more jaundiced view of the entire higher education system even as the old school narrative continues to be shoved down their throats by university marketing departments.

As a financial educator, I have had numerous concerns about my own clients taking on the costly burdens associated with financing their child’s college education. Truthfully, it makes me more than a bit queasy when I see clients raiding their savings and retirement accounts to send Junior to a fancy private school.

This is especially true in a financial system in flux, where, for the first time ever, over 50% of the unemployed and underemployed have college degrees. To make matters worse, there is a bubble on the horizon; large, paper-thin, and waiting for one tiny pin prick to explode it.

This bubble comes in the form of easy-to-obtain student loans that many are finding are not so easy to pay back. A 2012 article on CNN’s website reported that, at a time of record high unemployment for college grads, student indebtedness had reached an average of nearly $27.000.

“… Two-thirds of the class of 2011 held student loans upon graduation, and the average borrower owed $26,600, according to a report from the Institute for College Access & Success’ Project on Student Debt. That’s up 5% from 2010 and is the highest level of debt in the seven years the report has been published.” (1)

Beyond the expense of college there is also the thornier issue of whether most college kids are learning anything of real value that can be applied to the new economy. The education cartel, always in need of fresh blood and fresh wallets, has systematically smeared those who work in the trades as “blue-collar,” or “uneducated,” and thus somehow inferior to those with Ivy League degrees.

Matthew B. Crawford, a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, and author of the bestseller, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, has posited that the degradation of manual labor and the rise of so-called knowledge-based jobs was wrongheaded and that the future will belong to those who actually know how to do things such as build custom furniture, repair a car, or install heating and air conditioning units.

Says Crawford:

“While manufacturing jobs have certainly left our shores to a disturbing degree, the manual trades have not. If you need a deck built, or your car fixed, the Chinese are of no help. Because they are in China. And in fact there are reported labor shortages in both construction and auto repair. Yet the trades and manufacturing are lumped together in the mind of the pundit class as “blue collar,” and their requiem is intoned. Even so, the Wall Street Journal recently wondered whether “skilled [manual] labor is becoming one of the few sure paths to a good living.”

Crawford also observes that “If the goal is to earn a living, then, maybe it isn’t really true that 18-year-olds need to be imparted with a sense of panic about getting into college (though they certainly need to learn). Some people are hustled off to college, then to the cubicle, against their own inclinations and natural bents, when they would rather be learning to build things or fix things… ” (2)

The Cartelization of Education

We need only look, says bestselling author and trend forecaster Charles Hugh Smith, to the advent of the higher education cartel to see the reason for our obstinate addiction to the “old school” higher education system and the instance that insistence that everyone needs to go to college. There is a lot of money to be made, says Smith, and an elite cadre of cartel bosses who stand to profit by promoting that myth.

“Why does the old style system still persist even though it is already demonstrably inferior? In addition to the financial disincentives, there is another reason: the current system retains a monopoly on assessing student learning and granting credit for demonstrated accomplishment. The schools are able to do this because they have arranged a monopoly on accreditation. This is ultimately a grant of state power.

As a result, modern colleges and universities have collectively become a rent-seeking cartel, an alliance of nominally competitive institutions that maintains a highly profitable monopoly of accreditation. To grasp the power of the cartel, consider a typical Physics I course even at MIT is almost entirely based on Newtonian mechanics, and the subject matter is entirely in the public domain. Only a cartel could arrange to charge $1,500 and more per student for tuition and texts, in the face of far lower cost and superior quality materials, for subject matter that is no more recent than the 19th Century.” (3)

Jeffrey Tucker, CEO of the startup Linerty.me and publisher at Laissez Faire Books, agrees with Smith and maintains that cartelization has ensured that a return on investment in higher education is far from a sure thing for most students and their parents.

… even if the teen does everything right-every test trained for and taken five times, every activity listed on the portfolio, a high GPA, top of the class, early applications and admissions-you are not home free. You are going to spend six figures, but there is also a high opportunity cost: you remove your child from remunerative work for four years, and this is after four years of no employment in high school. That means both lost income and lost job experience. College is costly in every way. (4)

Citing what economists refer to as “inelastic demand,” Tucker writes that the cartel is exceptionally aware of, and deliberately contributes to, parental unwillingness to forego a four-year college education for their children, even if it means putting themselves in the poor house.

“Parents would gladly step in front of a bus to save their children, so facing debt and financial loss for a few years seems just part of parental obligation. This is why, in economic terms, the demand for college is relatively inelastic: Parents keep paying and paying no matter how bad it gets,” he argues. (4)

I see a lot of angst concerning this issue among my own clients. As the parent of a high school student, I understand it. The idea of college “no mater what” is so ingrained in our thinking that when a child tells us they are considering postponing college or even not going at all, parents tend to panic.

However, the stakes are higher than ever before and the potential for damage to the parents’ own financial well-being is enormous, not to mention the contribution education debt makes to our national economic malaise.

Parents and students need to ask themselves honest questions about the value of a traditional four-year degree, what the potential return on that investment will be, and whether or not there are viable alternatives.

Student Debt and Wall Street

As of this writing, current student debt stands at around $1.2 trillion dollars, more than the entire gross domestic products of some nations, including Canada.

After what we’ve discussed in previous chapters, it should come as no shock to you that many banks have turned these college loan obligations into (surprise, surprise) “investments” and are busy shopping them on Wall Street as subprime debt.

The market for these educational loans is relatively small compared to the market for home loans, so I doubt that it will be as massive a bubble as we had during the housing market.

However, if the Fed continues to hold interest rates down, investors might be desperate enough to snap more of them up. Then we could have another potential economy-damaging event on our hands.

Teresa’s Takeaway: Alternatives to Traditional 4-Year Degrees

Many of my clients are able to fund their kids’ education without incurring any debt due to their diligence in creating and maintaining their own private finance system using specially-designed insurance policies. In fact, I set up many of these policies that have as their express purpose the funding of a university education.

That being said, however, I never think it is a good idea to spend money simply because you have it available.

If you are a young person considering college or graduate school, do your research and question your motivations. Before saddling yourself or your parents or grandparents with a lot of debt- consider alternatives to four-year colleges, such as online degrees, community colleges, and trade schools. Ask yourself if what you really love and want to do

Find out if what you want to do really does require a college degree in the first place. Amazingly there are lots of high-paying jobs that don’t require 4-year degrees.

Look into local and community colleges, where your expenses are often a fraction of what private universities charge.

If you’re a recent high school graduate, take a year to “cool off,” work, save and travel. Gain a better understanding of yourself, your strengths and weaknesses. Learn what you have to offer to the world. Contribute to the global conversation in a meaningful way as a volunteer.

A bright spot in all of this is the fact that there are some great alternatives to the traditional sheepskin; alternatives that might actually broaden a students’ understanding of the world and give them skills that are needed in the new economy without bankrupting mom and dad.

Bestselling author James Altucher, a longtime proponent of re-thinking college, provides a few real alternatives to college.

Altucher suggests that some college prospects might be better off taking their college savings and starting a business.

He also suggests traveling to a country such as India and immersing your self in a culture completely different than your own.

You will learn what poverty is. You will learn the value of how to stretch a dollar. You will often be in situations where you need to learn how to survive despite the odds being against you. If you’re going to throw up you might as well do it from dysentery than from drinking too much at a frat party, “he writes. (5)

For even more ideas of what to do instead of college, check the resource section of this book for a link to Altucher’s report “40 Alternatives to College.”