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Joe Guzzardi The road to college success is tougher than you think

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Joe Guzzardi

Posted: Saturday, April 21, 2012 12:00 am

A few weeks ago, News-Sentinel reporter Sara Jane Pohlman's story, titled "Seniors on edge as college acceptance letters go out," told about Lodi's anxious graduates-to-be awaiting final decisions from the colleges of their choice.

For the 2012 class, the die is cast. But for freshman, sophomores and juniors, I have a cautionary message: No matter how much you've achieved, don't take anything for granted. However difficult you've been told the road is, it's tougher than you think.

Here's a story I like to share with parents who have high school age children with college aspirations. A surgeon friend is a University of Notre Dame alumnus and describes himself as a "major donor." His son got straight A's at an outstanding secondary school, exceptionally high SAT scores and had the requisite dazzling extracurricular activities. Notre Dame turned him down flat. When my stunned friend asked if his son could be wait-listed, he was told no.

The safest plan of action may be to have your child apply at an out-of-state school where, as a student who will pay significantly higher tuition, he may be more welcome.

Young Lodians who hope to attend a UC campus got another dose of bad news earlier this week. According to preliminary data released by the University of California Office of the President, UC schools accepted a record number of 80,289 freshmen for this fall — including a 43-percent increase in students from outside California, who would pay higher tuition rates.

For the upcoming fall semester, UC accepted 18,846 out-of-state and international students, compared to 13,144 last year. By comparison, the number of California residents admitted increased by only 3.6 percent, from 59,288 students to 61,443 students.

You don't have to be Einstein to figure out what's going on. California, in the midst of a huge, never-ending budget crisis, needs every dime.

Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed spending 21 percent less in 2012-13 than the state did in 2007-08. During the same period, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, undergraduate resident tuition has soared by 84 percent. University administrators are comforted by knowing that no matter how high tuition goes, the demand remains strong, especially from overseas students.

Given the rising college tuitions and the depressed jobs market, the debate is shifting from "Can I afford it even if I'm lucky enough to get in?" to "Is it worth it?" What's the cost to value equation?

College graduates earn at least 60 percent more than high-school grads on average, both annually and over their lifetimes. The income gap has grown over time, according to a 2007 New York College Board report.

For one thing, a degree gets students into the game. Even the lowest entry-level corporate job, not attainable without a college diploma, makes a young person visible and gives him a chance to work up the ladder.

Many graduates attest to the value of their friendship network of campus peers as helpful in opening doors after graduation. They claim that, for that reason alone, striving to gain admission to the most elite schools is worth the effort and expense. However, a long-term study of 6,335 college grads published in 1999 by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that graduating from exclusive colleges where entering students have higher SAT scores didn't pay off in higher post-graduation income.

With job creation not keeping pace with population growth, and with most economists predicting stagnant employment, spending moderate six figures over four years and assuming major debt in exchange for a diploma is a gamble. On the other hand, for the 18 to 25 demographic without a degree, the immediate future would be minimum wage employment, an unacceptable option.

Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. He lives in Pennsylvania where Penn State University and the University of Pittsburgh are America's two most expensive state colleges. Contact him at

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