ENGLISH AND MATH PREP CAN CUT COLLEGE COSTS
In discussions of college costs -- the high and rising price tag, the necessity of taking out student loans and the burden of repaying them, the fairness of forgiving some or all of those loans, the foregone opportunity to work and earn instead of going to college -- an important element is often left out: how to maximize the long-term personal and financial benefit from those college years. A college education is a lifelong asset requiring investment of both time and money. There is a lot riding on how those investments are made: earning good grades in a rigorous course of study, discovering and developing talent and passion into lifelong learning, lifetime friendships, and associations, and increased lifetime income.
To Reduce College Costs, Students Should Enter Prepared in Math and Writing Skills
The difference between what is expected in high school versus what is expected in a rigorous college program can come as quite a shock to entering students. Good colleges require students to organize and develop a large amount of work product and to record and communicate their findings in written and oral form. English and math are the two languages in which this requirement is met; students should use the time in high school to deepen their working knowledge of them. This preparation enables students to progress from passive to active learning, from routine derivative thinking to inventive thinking, from working with materials created by others to more actively creating their own work product. Prepared students have the foundation to earn higher grades in more rigorous disciplines, allocate their time efficiently, reduce the burden of student loans, and maybe even reduce total cost.
Emphasizing High School Writing
Opportunities to improve writing skills while in high school occur most obviously in English classes. Students should be smart consumers, enrolling in courses where a dedicated teacher will assign writing regularly, impose strict deadlines, and, most importantly, mark up draft essays and -- because advanced writing involves multiple revisions -- provide an opportunity to revise and resubmit the draft written work. Applying this pattern to increasingly complex topics enables the student to take organization and communication skills to a much higher and more innovative level and become a more analytical thinker and writer. All this effort also instills time management, starting projects as early as possible to permit those productive revisions.
Elective courses in history and social studies will solidify this discipline if they include additional written work and the opportunity to revise after teacher feedback.
Emphasizing Math Word Problems
A working knowledge of math is acquired through diligent, steady work of two kinds: working through routine exercises and solving word problems. Exercises challenge the student to use well-known steps or algorithms to solve arithmetic calculations or algebraic equations. In contrast, word problems require the student to set up an exercise by reading a problem description, separating the germane from the irrelevant, developing a math model and solving it, and then writing a short statement explaining their results. The importance and applicability of math can be conveyed in word problems derived from a wide range of real-world topic areas such as business, engineering, sports or personal finance. Examples could include the power of compound interest and the importance of saving when young; how to choose a car and pay for it with a car loan; navigating an airplane or ship in strong wind and water currents; calculating the time required to travel to Mars and return; how to decide whether to kick a field goal or run the ball on fourth down; and perhaps the most immediate word problem: how much to borrow to pay for college.
Finally, the high school years are a good time to hone computer skills needed in college. Requirements for essay writing and math problem-solving, complemented by computer skills, appear in virtually all disciplines across any college campus from science and engineering to social science humanities and fine arts. In many instances, electronic textbooks have replaced physical books. E-books and their electronic ancillaries are festooned with electronic problem sets and video clip tutorials. Students are expected to use their computer skills to enhance communications with professors, teaching assistants, and other students.
OK, But How Does Such Preparation Ease the Financial Burden?
Once in college, prepared students can produce written work with greater speed and sophistication. For them, college work is more time-manageable as well as higher quality. The prepared students can therefore choose from a much wider selection of majors, and enjoy a greater chance of discovering what they love, both for personal pleasure and to earn a living. They save money when they enter a rigorous major earlier, select more advanced courses in that major, and graduate in the traditional four years rather than the five or six years that too often results from insufficient planning. The prepared student can justify borrowing for their education, bypassing low-paying part-time jobs that add very little to their human capital. They can devote more of their time to investing in the durable asset of an education of greater value.