The High Cost of Higher Education

The cost of higher education is sky high, especially in Pennsylvania.

Amber Sullenberger of Mechanicsburg is a mother of two with two jobs.

Working as a pediatric physical therapist, Amber, 28, has a bachelor’s degree in health science and a doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Sciences in Philadelphia.

Six years of student loans have totaled to $250,000 in college debt and a lifetime of financial pain.

“I knew that I wanted to follow my dreams,” she said. “What was I supposed to do, say no, I’m not going to take out this money and not follow my dreams and be happy?”

Amber has been paying that $250,000 dream for nearly five years and it’s still a nightmare, most of it going to interest. She’d like to pay more, but she can’t afford more than her $2,000 monthly payment.

“We have two kids, we have a house, we have a life, we need to live,” she said. “I can’t pay more than that to be able to make ends meet.”

Although Amber’s case is extreme, the average student is straddled with more than $33,000 in loans, which begs the question, why is college so expensive?

Peter Van Buskirk created Best College Fit. He talks to students and parents, making sure they pick a college that is best for them.

“My objective is to help students and their parents understand better how the student will be regarded by colleges as they apply for admission and financial aid,” he said.

He says there are several reasons why colleges charge a fortune. First, hiring specialists to teach isn’t cheap.

“If you want to teach chemistry, who will teach,” he said. “Do you want to get a Ph.D. chemist? That Ph.D. chemist can also work for a pharmaceutical company and perhaps earn $250,000 a year.”

College campuses are also exploding with more student services, building the best of everything to attract students.

Another big deal for state schools like Shippensburg and Millersville is that state funding for higher education was cut nearly 10 years ago and never restored, pushing tuition and room and board up, making Pennsylvania state schools the second-most expensive in the country.

Back to Amber — she has come to terms with the cost of her diploma, knowing she’ll be paying off that $250,000 loan for the next 30 years.

“The amount I pay each month is terrible and, honestly, if I had to do it all over again, I would have picked something different knowing what I know now,” she said, “but I am happy and I do like my job.”

Pennsylvania ranked 49 out of 50 in a new report for college affordability. Only colleges in New Hampshire are more expensive.

Now that you know why college is so expensive in Pennsylvania, what can students do to prevent costly mistakes? Part two of The High Cost of Higher Education airs Tuesday on ABC27 News at 5.

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