Paying It Forward

You may recognize this expression from a Kevin Spacey movie from a few years back or heard it used by TV reporters describing a strange phenomenon caught on camera this Christmas. Drivers across the country waiting in fast-food lines for coffee, donuts or burgers offered to pay the tab for the people in the car behind them. Whether in the movies or the car line, paying it forward captures what can happen when we do something unexpectedly good for our neighbors, often inspiring them, in turn, to do the same.

Paying it forward has a different but equally important connotation for each of us who pay insurance premiums or contribute to savings and pension plans. We may not realize or appreciate the value of these investments in the short run, but over time they can make all the difference in the quality of our living. I’d like to suggest to you that paying it forward also applies to what families with children in college prep schools like Ascension do each time they make a tuition payment.

Education costs money. Whether schools receive their income from taxes, government allotments or from the tuition fees paid by their families, education is not free. Colleges have enjoyed a tremendous increase in the tuitions they have been charging students over the last thirty years, such that now you can expect to pay anywhere from $14,000 (community college like AC), to $22,000 (large state universities like WT), to as high as $54,000 (private universities like Baylor and Rice) for an undergraduate education in Texas. And that is the cost for one year living on campus if you happen to be an in-state resident!

If contemplating costs like these makes you numb or want to scream, you are not alone. And while some people apparently can handle these kinds of payments, most of us afford college only through a combination of financial aid, scholarships, loans, and campus employment, leaving a substantial amount for us and our children to pay off over years or even decades.

And this is precisely where Ascension offers a pay-it-forward advantage that many of our families have and will continue to enjoy. How can I say this? Consider…

· All of our seniors have the opportunity to carry with them from 15 to 30 college credits thanks to our dual-credit curriculum offerings.

· All of our seniors benefit from a respected AP curriculum that earns many of them advanced placements in college courses or generous scholarship awards.

· More than one of our alumni families has told me that the monies spent on Ascension tuitions was made up in full or in part by the scholarships their child received.

· Our graduates almost overwhelmingly report that they are so well prepared to move into mainstream classes in college that many of them are accelerated in the sequence of their requirements, moving them forward in class standing.

· An increasing number of our graduates tell us of graduating in 3, 3 ½ or 4 years. Saving a semester or a year’s worth of tuition payments in college is nothing to sneeze at.

With colleges raising the alarm about the increasing number of incoming freshmen who are not ready for college-level work, the five-year undergraduate career is becoming the new norm. For those families the added tuition costs of between $30,000-50,000 for an additional year dwarf what they could have invested in their child at Ascension to better prepare them for success in college.

Yes, an Ascension diploma does come at a cost. But when weighed against the success of our graduates in completing their degree program on time or ahead-of-time, when weighed against the scholarships our students regularly receive, and when weighed against the extra amount of tuition our families don’t have to fund when their children graduate from college on time--then the cost of Ascension really can be seen as a pay-it-forward, cost-effective investment in their child’s future.

Ascension families and prospective families are encouraged to think long and hard about the value of an education of this caliber for their children. Yes, it requires commitment, sacrifice, and careful financial planning. But it is not money spent without return. It may be the most important and long-lasting pay-it-forward initiative you will ever make for your child, your family, and yourself.