How to Pay for College: A Decision That Lasts Well Into the Future

how to pay for college and why employers should are

That "whoosh" you just heard was the sound of about five thousand of your employees taking a deep breath.

Yes folks, May 1 was college decision day the date next year's college students (and their parents) move from wondering where they're going to go to college...to figuring out how to pay for it.

What Does it All Mean?

Those of us who've been there know it's a big moment (congrats, kids!). But once the excitement's digested, the reality hits home: gulp...$25K+ per year! The average student's piece of the collective trillion-dollar debt pie is currently roughly $30,000 - enough zeros to extend well into the future.

That long road makes student load debt an issue companies will want to keep an eye on. You may think financial stability is just a personal problem, but it isn't. Stress has a domino effect, torpedoing work, life, and health. And there are few stresses bigger than worrying about money. "Money flows two ways," says Bright Horizons' CHRO Dan Henry. "There's the money you pay people to do their jobs, and the money they cost you (in lost productivity, errors, poor judgment, and worse) when things like stress cause them to not do their jobs well."

What's An Employer to Do

And it affects everyone, from entry level to senior managers, wrote College Coach's Shannon Vasconcelos recently. Even the Mayor of New York City has struggled with the classic college conundrum - too high a salary to quality for financial aid, not high enough to pay two college students' tuition full fare.

Perhaps worse than not knowing what you're doing is knowing you could have done it better. The New York Times chronicled several students stories under the ominous title "Student Loan Facts They Wish They Had Known." One graduate observed glumly that he investigated upfront, he could have found ways to borrow less than his current $100,000 of debt. Many suggested making pre-borrowing counseling mandatory.

Counseling a family about their options before signing on the dotted line - helping both to finance and even pay better - does everybody good. It not only has the potential to lessen those job-torpedoing distractions for today's moms and dads, but also for tomorrow's graduates for whom piles of debt are sure to affect all aspects of life, including job choices. It also promises to get the attention of Millennials who've stated clearly their desire for financial stability.

Boomers Today, Millennials Tomorrow

All of this is reason for employers to embrace the financial-guidance banner and questions like how to pay for college. Information is a chance to replace worry with solid facts. Because those taking on college debt may joke about living on macaroni and cheese; but it's less funny when you're, you know... really living on macaroni and cheese.

And as Dan observed, "By answering those questions, you're not just dealing with money... you're removing huge impediments to performance. And companies that are paying attention are reaping the rewards."  

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.