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Pamela Tom Headshot

An Empty Nest in an Age of Empty Bank Accounts

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Between now and the next few weeks, thousands of college freshmen will move into campus dorms to begin what's billed as perhaps "the best time of their lives." Thanks, Mom and Dad. With all the talk of parents struggling to pay for college costs amidst an economy fraught with unemployment and foreclosures, the cost to live at college, as well as tuition, is worth attention.

Forbes took a look, surveying colleges nationwide, and came up with yet another ranking: the most expensive dorms and the best deals. Sarah Lawrence College in New York takes the honors for the highest price tag at $13,000 a year. (The numbers are based on 2008-2009: 2010-2011 prices come in at $9020 plus meal plans ranging from $550-$2,400). The best deal, according to Forbes, is at Kenyon College, a well-regarded liberal arts college in Ohio, at $6,590 (academic quality was taken into consideration as to what constitutes a "best deal.")

I was surprised to hear these numbers, whereas at the University of California, Berkeley, the cheapest dorm is a triple-occupancy room for $11,600 including meals. To get this deal, three people must squeeze into a room designed for two. A triple at Kenyon this year is $3,240 plus $5,220 board (meals).

The Forbes article says schools like UC Berkeley were not included on its list because "students in each city can find cheaper apartments off-campus or live with family." In reality, most freshman want to live in a dorm to meet new friends and become part of the university family. Cal Berkeley is in the Bay Area, where housing costs are among the highest in the nation.

As Californians consider who will be the state's next governor, higher education has not been a headline issue for the two candidates. However, Meg Whitman says she will direct "$1 billion of the savings from her welfare and other budgetary reforms into the UC and CSU systems." Democrat Jerry Brown says, "We must also reverse the decades long trend of transferring state support from higher education to prisons."

The bottom line: our current and future economy depends on elevating educational opportunity for our children. The other day, I was discussing college costs with a German friend with two high school-age kids. He remarked how it won't cost him much to send his boys to college in Germany. The United States will not secure growth and stability if American parents can't afford to send their children to college. Only with a strong, educated workforce will we be able to limit the outsourcing of jobs and lucrative technologies.

Talk about the cost of college dorms? More and more college graduates are returning to the nest to live at home after they graduate because they can't find jobs, or at least, not the jobs that will allow them to live independently. What can we do?

Support education. Parents of young children, don't sit idly. Speak out now. Instill the importance of education, not just for the individual but for our collective well-being. Vote.