Graduates’ future bright, finances are not

Hundreds of newly minted graduates will wear wide grins as they stride out of high school and onto the path they hope will lead to the good life.

Many will set their sights high and achieve great things.

And like generations before, nearly all of today’s graduates face pressure to quickly jump into a summer job — or three — to start paying their own way.

Unfortunately, that trail to success and prosperity isn’t as well worn as it once was — pitfalls and snags abound.

There is no doubt the young people donning caps and gowns today are better prepared for life ahead than many generations before. Think about it, these teens were raised in the midst of an unprecedented technological evolution. They were nine or 10 years old when the iPhone launched and have lived in a world where handheld supercomputers are commonplace, a world more interconnected than ever before.

They also have no memory of a day when their nation wasn’t at war, or a time when terrorist attacks and mass shootings were fodder for nightmares, not headlines.

But probably the most difficult hurdle the class of 2018 will overcome isn’t the most obvious.

Many teens who spent the past two years pondering their post-graduation plans spent more time confronting dilemmas of financial planning, not career choice.

Most preceding generations — save those parents who support college students — can’t fathom the financial roadblocks ahead for today’s graduates. The cost of post-secondary education has skyrocketed, even at budget-friendly state universities, as state budget builders have balanced deficits by shifting college costs from state coffers to students.

There certainly are a number of reasonable options for students who want to avoid some costs, like early college programs at Traverse City Area Public Schools and associate degree programs at Northwestern Michigan College. But those options don’t reach nearly enough students.

Consider this: per-credit tuition costs have spiked 397 percent in the past 18 years at Central Michigan University, previously one of the most affordable state universities.

That rise means students who can’t secure major scholarships or grants will need to scrape together nearly $100,000 to pay for a four year degree. And many working-class families simply can’t shoulder that burden.

The Economist estimated that in 2014 there was more than $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt with more than 7 million of those borrowers in default. Subsequent tallies estimated the total debt at more than $1.3 trillion with 44 million borrowers owing an average of $37,000 in student loan debt.

Many young adults aiming for a bright future will dig a massive financial hole before they earn that first career paycheck. They face the equivalent of a mortgage payment within six months of college commencement. Those costs will dip into decades worth of future paychecks.

The days of leisurely summers spent on the beach before college are long gone.

Instead our recent graduates are destined for a summer filled with a job, or two, or three simply to afford a down payment toward their future prosperity.

— Traverse City Record-Eagle