Is PACT or colleges the real problem?

Published 10:53 pm Tuesday, March 17, 2009

If you’re going to a college or university, you’re most likely going to need financial aid, but sometimes I wonder if financial aid really is doing as much good as it appears on the surface.

Take for instance the Prepaid Affordable College Tuition Plan. This program, which is a common form of financial aid in our state, is sold as you can pay for college tuition at today’s prices even though your child won’t graduate until 12 years from now. When they graduate high school, he or she won’t have to worry about tuition. The only thing they have to worry about is books and room and board.

During the time your child is in school, however, our major state schools are increasing tuition each year. They realize the PACT program is paying the whole tuition regardless of how much it is. So the schools raise their rates each year.

If you’re in the PACT program, you don’t care about that because you aren’t affected by the increase. Those who aren’t in the program have to find a way to make up the difference, or there are a very rare few that drop out of school.

The majority that stay in school have to take out more federal loans. Then, the federal government pays the additional tuition increase through the loans. So, the school always gets their increase no matter what.

This year is different. For the first time in PACT’s history, they announced that they may not be able to cover all the tuition costs. The reason is the investments have lost a considerable amount of money.

State Treasurer Kay Ivey asked the state’s colleges and universities not to increase their tuitions next year, but Alabama and Auburn raised their rates anyway. They are still thinking the program will give them their money, but it’s possible they won’t pay up. Then, it becomes the responsibility of the student to pay.

Thankfully, some universities such as Troy have chosen not to raise their rates.

Many people are getting upset at the PACT program for losing money on the stock market, but when you have an economy like ours, everyone’s going to lose money. The real people you should be upset with is the college administrators. They are the ones that keep raising rates every year — even in a recession.

Are state colleges just going to put more of a burden on struggling students and the government? It’s fine to have one of the best research universities in the nation, but can the research wait a couple of years? It seems better to keep the students coming to school rather than going somewhere else that will allow the PACT program to pay their whole tuition.