Tonawanda News

August 22, 2013

KEPPELER: Thinking of the class of 2026

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — He wants to be a doctor.

I typed those words. Looked at them for a bit. Thought about what they make me feel: A combination of pride ... and utter panic.

My 5-year-old, fresh from his own annual “well child” pediatrician visit, has been on a kick of utter fascination with the medical field lately.

He bustles up when you’ve managed to sit down for a moment or two, insists on looking in your eyes and ears and mouth and listens with grave demeanor to your heart. Maybe he lectures you, just a little, about eating well and “running a lot.” (To Sam, “Running = exercise.”)

If you’re not feeling well, then it really kicks in. You need to lie down. And once you’re lying down, he must cover you with a blanket (and kiss you on the forehead). If you have a scrape, he knows where we keep the Band-Aids, and will emerge from the bathroom with a fistful. 

He told me, a few weeks ago, that he wants to be a doctor. A heart doctor, in fact, like the one his big brother sees once a year. Sam has grown up knowing that Jim’s heart needs just a little extra care.

I was touched beyond belief when he told me that. I wasn’t too worried. Not-quite-kindergartners have a lot of big dreams, although this one is a big more realistic than some. (”Jedi” has previously topped the list of things Sam wants to be when he grows up.) And in the decade or so before we have to start looking at colleges, a lot of things could change.

Some of them not for the better.

This week, I’ve been looking a lot at the cost of college tuition. The rise in costs, especially for low- or middle-class families such as my own, is one of the things President Obama is expected to talk about today at the University at Buffalo. And I’m not ashamed to say that it’s difficult not to start hyperventilating a bit at the numbers, so much higher than I remember in my own college year in the mid-1990s.

Sam, my proud, soon-to-be kindergartner, will presumably be a member of the Class of 2026. In 13 years, what will we be looking at? 

Well, the College Calc website (collegecalc.org) estimates the annual cost of college in 2026 to be $45,473.19. The total four-year cost? About $181,900.

I know it’s not just tuition, it’s fees and room and board and all the other details. But I don’t even want to look at those numbers right now. 

The site also recommends what we should save a month for that goal. 

I’ll just say it’s not really feasible.

And that’s undergrad. Not master’s, not med school. Sam, my boy, we’d better start working on those scholarships.

The cost of an education keeps rising. The importance of an education keeps rising, too. But the amount of money many U.S. families have to spend ... or save ... isn’t pacing it. In fact, in many cases, it’s sinking ... or plummeting.

And without an education of whatever stripe, certificate to doctorate, the next generation isn’t going to do any better, either. 

I don’t know the answer, although I’m curious what Obama will propose. It’s not an easy question. Costs go up for colleges, too, and they get passed on. Any college worth its name needs to keep up with its technology, or its students won’t be able to, either. And all that costs money.

I’m a big proponent of community colleges, both as a direct route to education (see ECC’s Industrial Technology Program) and as a stepping stone to four-year schools. As an alumna of both Jamestown Community College (Olean) and St. Bonaventure University, I know what a good option they can be. I think we disregard vocational education far too much these days. (I’m a homeowner; I know what we pay the plumber or electrician these days. And it’s a better living than reporting.)

But we need our UBs, our St. Bona’s, our Brockports and NUs, too.

We need our potential Dr. Sam Keppelers.

Do I really think we’re looking at a medical-school track in 13 years? I have no idea. He’s 5. He also wants to be a Jedi. (Or a Sithlord. It changes.)

But ultimately, I want him to be whatever he wants to be, whether it’s a doctor or an electrician or a journalist. (Well ... maybe not that.)

And right now, I don’t even know how possible that will be.

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at jill.keppeler@tonawanda-news.com. Follow her on Twitter at @JillKeppeler.