Keep students focused on the right number to help them make money-smart career decisions

There’s been no shortage of articles this summer about college rankings, precipitated by a Columbia University professor calling out his own school for questionable data that led to a higher-than-warranted U.S. News ranking. But Columbia may not have been the only school to take liberties with their data.

A book on this issue written by Colin Diver, former head of Reed College and University of Pennsylvania’s law school, lays bare a rankings industry that appears to mislead consumers, undermine academic values and even perpetuate social inequality.

The book, Breaking Ranks, points out flaws in the ranking system, citing misreported statistics by the schools due to the competitive nature of higher education. “They’re competing for the best students, faculty, grants, and most of all, they’re fiercely competing for status,” said Diver. “They want to be considered the best.”

Tuition, room and board for four years at a state university can now top $125,000, with total costs upwards of $300,000 for private schools, says Ron Lieber, financial writer for the New York Times. While financial aid is always an option to help reduce the financial burden, in his New York Times best-seller book, The Price You Pay for College: An Entirely New Road Map for the Biggest Financial Decision Your Family Will Ever Make, Lieber admits that financial aid varies wildly in accessibility and awards that can help reduce cost.

But let’s be honest. Whatever we’re going to shell out for our education, shouldn’t we all want to ensure we’re going to a “top ranked” school in order to get the most for our dollar?

Ranking or debt? What matters most?

When helping students plan careers and the educational path that will lead them to their desired profession, we feel the number a college or university ranks is probably the least important number for most students.

The more important number to pay attention to should be how much they need to borrow and the resulting level of debt they will need to pay off with their future career and earnings.

There are few consumer decisions that create more confusion and angst than the question of what to pay for college and how to fund it. Once students receive offers of admission and aid, they have to make a decision about value. When does paying an extra $50,000 or $150,000 for one school over another make sense? In some cases, when a Ph.D. is the ultimate goal, that higher ranked/greater cost school may be the price to get to the next level.  But that won’t be the case for all students.

But what is the same for every student, is the need to carefully plan all financial aspects of an advanced education. And, to have a financial plan today for the future!

More than tuition, room and board

Jenny Nicholson, an experienced designer of web-based games, is one of the creators of a free, interactive game called Payback. The game helps high school students understand the true total cost of their college experience. Every decision — from the school they attend to what jobs, activities, classes and majors they choose— is about trade-offs.

Jenny and her collaborators believed students needed to know more than just the cost of tuition and room and board. How will they cover laptop purchases, meal plans, dorm supplies and books? How much paid work is enough, and how many hours can they work and still complete class assignments? How much should they spend on socializing and fun?  On club memberships, spring break, vacations and even the Greek system?

The game not only provides a running total of student debt, but also a constant, cumulative tabulation of a student’s choices (will paid work help reduce expenses?), or connections (is an unpaid internship worth it?) and even something as simple as their happiness.

Money Path is the next step

Like Payback, Money Path, SecureFutures’ academic, career and financial planning app, helps students connect the dots between career path and pay, college expenses and student loan debt. But it takes students even farther by providing them with a personalized, step-by-step simulation of life after graduation.

Fully web-based, Money Path takes college planning to the next level by helping students understand how to make real-life financial decisions. Once they identify a career path, such as an apprenticeship, two- or four-year college, military service, or direct entry into the workforce, students are led through the development of their real-life budget.

They’ll learn how to manage a budget and establish a timeline for achieving important financial goals like purchasing a car and house, getting married and having children, and saving for retirement. That budgeting process, based on the long-term impact of their decisions, takes them on a simulated life journey…from creating lifelong personal goals to building appropriate savings to ‘fund’ those goals

Money Path is a one-of-a-kind tool that helps students learn how to prevent the financial missteps often inherent at this point in their young lives… missteps are often costlier for students facing barriers caused by racial, economic and educational inequities. But regardless of their situation, Money Path provides every student user with a clear picture of both the benefits and the financial impact of the path they may be considering.

Get your students started now

Currently, thanks to sponsor support, Money Path is available free of cost to every high school in Wisconsin. Money Path will set teens on a course to reach their lifelong financial goals and strengthen their communities because once they sign up for Money Path, students have access to the Money Path app and its valuable planning tools as long as they need it.

Ready to help your students start on the path to focusing on the right numbers and making real-life financial decisions? Learn more here or request a Money Path demonstration here.