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I saw a meme on Facebook back in 2020 when I had just become the parent of a college student. It was a picture of a “(insert the name of college here) Mom” coffee cup, and the caption said, “My $40,000 Coffee Cup.” I laughed out loud at that one. So funny, I thought.

Four years later, I am now the parent of a college senior who is about to graduate with her bachelor’s degree. She’s not done yet. She’ll need a fifth year to add a teaching certificate onto that degree. My husband and I have funded the cost of her college ourselves, and we are a couple of public-school teachers. Here are the rough numbers for the cost of this degree.

Tuition for Five Years (four years undergrad, plus one year for certificate program) – $50,000

Room and Board for Five Years (and car insurance, gas, clothing, flights home, etcetera) – $125,000 (approximately 25,000 per year)

Total: $175,000 for a teaching degree, a couple of college-parent coffee mugs, and hopefully a chance for our daughter to live a happy life in today’s economy

Of course, there could have been ways to cut this down a bit. My daughter wanted to go to school out of state. We made a deal with her that if she could qualify for the WUE (Western Undergraduate Exchange) scholarship, then she could consider out-of-state schools that participate in that program. She did qualify, and her school of choice cost about 5,000 dollars per semester for tuition which was about in state tuition and a half. This is by no means considered an expensive school in comparison to other state schools or private ones.

She could have worked more while in college. She did Door Dash and worked some summer jobs while at school, but we believed school was her job. She knew the expectation was that she would pass her classes and graduate with her bachelor’s in four years. Beyond that, we would not be paying. We did end up agreeing to the 5th year for her teaching certificate program which is how long it takes to get a secondary teaching degree these days in many cases, and that was the program available at her school.

She could have gone to community college or trade school. But she wanted to be a teacher. That requires college. She also needed to get away from home to learn how to take care of herself. Community college would have been cheaper, but it was not her path.

She could have taken out student loans and paid her own way. That’s how her stepdad and I did it. I just paid off my student loans when I turned 40. My daughter didn’t qualify for any federal grants because her parents are such rich schoolteachers. Sarcasm intended. But we didn’t want her to take out loans, so we were finally able to start saving for her college just before she started high school. We were able to save up about 48,000 during that time thanks to a college savings account that did well and a little bit of help from our parents too.

The reason I’m sharing this now is because I see so many posts on social media these days about other parents trying to navigate getting their kids through college. I also see people complaining about student loans being forgiven in some cases. I don’t write this to ignite a political argument, but I do write this to share a very real problem.

The cost of college is now insurmountable for many middle-class families. Even parents who are applying for financial aid with their children are finding out the loans that are available to their children do not even begin to cover all the costs.

It makes people uncomfortable to talk about money, but I believe it is necessary. It shouldn’t be so out of reach for students wanting to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, nurses, etcetera. We need people in these professions.

Many students taking the college path will come out of college buried in debt, only to find that the job that they are able to get with their degree does not provide enough income to cover the cost of housing and essentials in today’s world, much less the student loans they will need to start paying back.

There is a problem with how we handle college education in our country. The $175,000 coffee mug is out of reach for so many. But a college education is so much more than a coffee mug, and it should not be unattainable for so many smart and talented young people who just want to contribute to society and make a living doing something they love.