These are not technologies... that one learns about in high school.
— Susan Hockfield
Two kids starting high school. In New York City Public schools, that is an exciting moment and something of a relief. It concludes what can be a harrowing admissions process. My wife and I are certainly glad that's over for our twin 13-year-old daughters, but having two girls going into ninth grade starts something else rolling. The first day of ninth grade will be the first step down that long road to choosing and being ready — financially and otherwise — for college.
In just the past few years, the cost of higher education has grown, the amount of debt amassed to pay for it has grown even more and the alternatives to the four year residential college education have proliferated. So my wife and I have had to seriously think about and really calculate the value of college, and particularly what college for our twin teens.
Of course we started the financial planning a long time ago, but the numbers are still daunting and in this recession you can never discount the possibility that some huge and sudden financial setback will diminish any savings and unsettle all of the best laid plans.
There is also finding the proper fit for each girl: they may be twins but they are very different. Schools where they can thrive are more important than schools with big names we can brag about. My wife and I went to top schools, history major at Barnard (part of Columbia University) in my wife's case and math major at the University of Chicago for me. The pressure and inclination to get our kids into those sorts of schools is enormous but perhaps says more about us than our kids. I also took a year off in the 70s and, truth be told, never even graduated from college before embarking on a career as a journalist, first freelance and then with NPR, eventually landing at ABC and NBC before starting The Takeaway.
My wife was a top student who graduated with honors from Barnard before starting a career as a producer at ABC. As you can see, our kids have two very different examples. They are also on very different paths, particularly the 13-year-olds. One of our daughters is going to a legendary high school that specializes in science and technology while the other teen is going to an equally legendary arts-oriented school. My wife and I certainly have our "college-calc" work cut out for us.
So when I had the chance to speak with the brilliant President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Susan Hockfield, this week I wondered if she would have any advice. Hockfield is the first woman president of MIT and the first person from the life sciences to lead this preeminent institute of learning and research. In the video below, I asked President Hockfield, who is retiring from MIT at the end of the month, to do a little college calculation for us. As we know MIT types love to calculate.
But what do I tell my own kids? It's a little early but two simple thoughts: I tell my daughters if they are the absolute best at what they do or study then they probably won't have to worry about college at all. If they are the best they can be, they can always count on their mom and dad to help find a place where they will thrive.
I want to ask our listeners: What are you advising your kids about college? Leave your comment below.
Three-time Peabody Award winner, four-time Emmy winner and "Dateline NBC" correspondent, John Hockenberry has broad experience as a journalist and commentator for more than two decades. He is the anchor of the new public radio morning show The Takeaway on WNYC and PRI. He has reported from all over the world, in virtually every medium, having anchored programs for network, cable and radio.