The new normal: College debt keeps grads at home

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When I was a young adult I couldn't wait to leave home and get out on my own. It really wasn't that hard to do -- I made good money as a waitress and cheap places were plentiful. When I went to nursing school in Colorado Springs, tuition was $700 a semester including books and I could make enough in the summer to pay for school. I lived in a nice cabin for $60 a month that included heat and cable. Boy, are those days gone.

College graduates now face thousands of dollars of debt as they pick up their diplomas. Two-thirds (65.7%) of 4-year undergraduate students graduate with an average student loan debt of $19,237. Graduate and professional students borrow even more, with the additional debt for a graduate degree ranging from $27,000 to $114,000. Many graduates see little choice to get out of debt except move back with the folks.

These boomerangers are everywhere. In 2007, 14.5 million children age 18-24 lived at home, up from 6.4 million in 1960, according to U.S. Census figures. Moving back home has become the new normal. So many kids are doing so that there is no longer a stigma.

Yet, a lot of this debt could be avoided with better planning and decisions. I was amazed when I sent my kids to college at how many of my friends had not saved any money for school. They just assumed they would take loans. We started saving when the kids were born and were able to pay cash for their undergraduate degrees.

We also insisted that they kids not get caught up in the "expensive school frenzy" that so many families were experiencing. Partly driven by idiotic guidance counselors who insisted "you have a right to go to the school you want," kids were applying to the most expensive schools in the country. We stressed that our Wisconsin state schools were great (and they are) and there was no reason to pay more.

It is always interesting to me. I have three college degrees and no one has ever asked what schools I went to.

Barbara Bartlein is the People Pro. She is a relationship expert and author of Why Did I Marry You Anyway. For more tips to balance your life, please visit: Marriage Tips. For Barb's Free e-mail newsletter, please visit: The People Pro.

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