Thursday, February 9, 2012

Parenting Pointers: Kids and Education

RSC: Your College Prep Expert is an advisory company that helps high school students and their parents through a range of challenges from picking classes to acquiring financial aid. These processes are becoming more and more overwhelming and often times the anxiety of the application process or picking the right school becomes an obstacle too great to overcome. I interviewed Maura Kastberg, a financial aid expert and Executive Director of Rewarding Student Commitment, and the interview is below:

1. I’ve never heard of RSC: Your College Prep Expert. Can you briefly describe what it offers?
RSC: Your College Prep Expert is a company devoted to helping 8th-12th graders prepare and pay for college through a program of class selection, SAT test prep, college and career research, and financial aid assistance. We do this using grade-specific handbooks, video tutorials and conversations with our counselors. We even have a fleet of products to help parents get their students ready for college. The name Rewarding Student Commitment refers to our Rewards Program, a way to keep students motivated and on top of their studies.

2. What are some changes in the education system you’ve seen over the years?
One of the biggest changes has been the length of time it takes students to earn a bachelor’s degree. When I started helping families 15 years ago, most students graduated in four years. Today, the average is 5 ½ years. The good news is that students who take college prep tend to graduate in the 4 ½ year range.

Another change is the growing acceptance of private counseling as a way to help students meet their college goals. State and school budget cuts have left a lot of guidance counselors overworked and unable to spend enough time with students. They spend roughly 13% of their time on college prep, which isn’t enough to help students explore possible majors, appropriate colleges and financial aid options. Private counselors can devote all their time to these issues.

3. What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing education today and how can RSC work with students to meet these challenges?
The biggest challenges facing families is the soaring cost of tuition. Tuition has jumped 459% since 1985. When you couple the cost of college with that 5 ½ year graduation time, paying for college becomes a major obstacle. Students take longer to graduate for two main reasons: they change their major or school, or they need remedial classes to get up to speed. The high price of a college degree is the top three students drop out.

RSC helps families combat the cost of tuition by focusing on two aspects of financial aid: need-based and merit-based aid. By improving a student’s SAT or ACT scores, guiding them to the right classes and researching the colleges that can help them most, we make students good candidates for the colleges on their list, and good candidates get the best financial aid. We also provide personalized college-cost estimates for our families, so they have an accurate idea of just how much any college will cost them. Then, for our seniors, we complete all their need-based financial aid forms and, when necessary, help them appeal poor financial aid offers. Colleges want to make college affordable to their students. We just help them find ways to make that possible.

4. What are some positive trends going on in the education system today?
One of the most positive trends is the number of students who recognize the importance of a college education. In 1970, only 40% of high-school students went to college, but now it’s nearly 71%. Not surprisingly, the number of people holding bachelor’s degrees has more than doubled in that time. Another positive trend is that more families understand the need to prepare for college early, say in 8th or 9th grade. Not enough families are doing it, but as more and more do, we should see an increase in the number of students who are prepared for college and graduating with degrees that can help them in the workplace. That’s exciting, and extremely encouraging for today’s students, as long as they prepare early.

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