Hard Conversations About College And Money The latest estimates on the average cost of college from the National Center for Education Statistics is more than $11,000 for public schools and $28,000-plus at private institutions. Those price tags combined with a troubled economy mean high school seniors and their families are making tough choices about paying for college. Youth Radio's William Nelligan is one of them.

Hard Conversations About College And Money

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Now to a student who's still trying to decide on a school. William Nelligan is a high school senior in Portland, Maine. He and his family are discussing the choice between an affordable public university and the more expensive private colleges he's always dreamed of attending. Youth Radio produced his commentary.

WILLIAM NELLIGAN: All of this is still on the table. But my parents are putting things into perspective. Here's my dad, Bill...

BILL NELLIGAN: We've been trying to save for college since you were born, but the economy hasn't really cooperated in the last few years.

NELLIGAN: How so?

NELLIGAN: Well, the value of the investments for your college fund depreciated substantially.

NELLIGAN: Substantially means 75 percent. That's huge. But I don't want to think about putting one of my acceptance letters back in the envelope; neither do my parents. That's what makes the honest conversations about money and college so hard.

ANNA FLANAGAN: Okay, about next year and the budget.

NELLIGAN: That's my friend Anna Flanagan broaching the subject with her parents, Jim Flanagan and Carrie Stephens.

CARRIE STEPHENS: The schools cost $43,000. And I guess you've heard that we've never made $43,000 in a year and aren't likely to start now.

FLANAGAN: How prepared are we to pay for it?

JIM FLANAGAN: Ill. Ill-prepared at this point. When I got sick, that was kind of pretty much the end of it.

STEPHENS: We have a little bit of savings and we have some family that's being very kind to us.

FLANAGAN: Had I not got sick, gotten sick, I may have very well have put that money in the market so it would be gone anyway. So what's the difference? Plenty of other people put their money in the market and lost 40 percent of it. We didn't. We spent it. On bills.

STEPHENS: It's going to be a hard year for everybody. Not just us. And I don't think kids have any understanding of what it means to go into debt.

NELLIGAN: But my dad always used to joke that in exchange for financing my education I'd have to buy him a house on a golf course one day. I'm hoping if he invests in me this time, maybe I'll be able to give him the Myrtle Beach home he's always wanted.

MONTAGNE: William Nelligan is a reporter for Blunt Radio in Maine. His story was produced by Youth Radio, and if you have questions about how to pay for college, you can head to npr.org for a live chat today at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

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