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Rising Tuition Prompts Koreans to Rethink US Education

Posted: Mar 18, 2012

NEW YORK ― Kim Jee-hee thought she had it all figured out for her daughter. Four years ago, she sent the high school freshman off to a preparatory school in the United States, targeting New York University. But the ambitious mom now has to do her math all over again.

"Who would’ve expected tuition to increase this much, this fast?’’ said Kim, who lives in Seoul. "It’s like I’m holding my breath every time the price goes up.’’

If her high school senior daughter decides to enroll in NYU this fall, Kim and her husband will have to shell out nearly $60,000 a year.

"And we are not even including a personal allowance here. I’m beginning to think this is crazy,’’ said Kim, who is now trying to convince her daughter to consider cheaper options.

NYU is just one of an increasing number of American colleges that charge more than $50,000 a year.

Only 58 schools charged more than $50,000 a year in the 2009-2010 academic year, according to the College Board. But now, 123 colleges and universities across the nation demand a combined tuition, fees, room and board exceeding $50,000.

"That’s like the new magic number,’’ says Choi Ki-tae, a college counselor in New Jersey. "It’s definitely more than what an average American worker makes.’’

Average American workers earn $42,000 a year, according to government data.

"Even wealthy Korean parents are starting to wonder if these schools are worth the giant price tag,’’ said Choi, who helps Korean students and their parents with college visits and applications.

But of course the school name, for many, is too good to pass up.

Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, Georgetown University and Berklee College of Music ― all well above $50,000 a year ― are among the well-known institutions that Koreans favor.

So what is fanning the prices so high?

"There is an ongoing debate about this,’’ says Robert Newman, member of a parents council in Connecticut. "Some say it’s the economy, some say it’s the shrinking donations and endowments, and some say schools are spending recklessly. I say it’s a mix of all these reasons that equally burden students.’’

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student loan debt stands at $870 billion nationally, surpassing other forms of debt, including the $730 billion in auto loans and $693 billion for credit cards as of the third quarter for 2011.

Even public schools aren’t as affordable as they used to be.

University of California tuition rose nearly 18 percent in just one year to $36,000 for international students. Other public universities in Washington and New York, among other states, are raising prices as well.

"What are we doing to our kids? We’re making them go bankrupt even before they get a chance to step into the real world,’’ said Newman.

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