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Hoggirl

Flabbergasted by friends' lack of awareness of college costs - UPDATE in post #440

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Yes, there are programs to assist low income families with housing and college costs. You’re right that I don’t find fault with that.

 

Re: your middle paragraph, and this could be where I’m understanding things wrong as I’m new to all of this, but the net price calculator consist of putting in your income and assets in order to determine the price you’re going to pay. How is that not setting a price based on income?

 

I don’t find anything wrong with colleges offering additional aid above and beyond tax payer funded aid. I just wonder why the focus is on offering more of this type of aid (income based) vs. making the price affordable, in general.

 

When a college sets a price for a specific family at 30-40% of income plus a percentage of assets, it typically isn’t affordable. That’s where you families taking on potentially risky loans, etc. I know those loans work out for some, but they can obviously be a tremendous problem for others.

 

I have heard people on various threads say things like, “Colleges expect you to use all available savings.†“Colleges consider all available college funds to be used for the first child.†“Colleges expect you to stop retirement savings.†Therefore, it suggests that those families should have no emergency fund, have no savings for subsequent children, and should stop funding retirement for maybe a decade or so in order to afford certain schools.

 

We had friends over whose daughter applied for Harvard and said that if she gets in, it will cost less than our state school. (I am happy for them, and I hope she gets in!) This family has fewer children than we have and a very similar lifestyle. When I looked up our price at Harvard, it was 3 times what he told me they’d have to pay. (And I honestly don’t begrudge them that at all, I just find this to be an unexpected part of the process.)

 

We’re using the same strategy for college that we use for house hunting - only looking at what we can afford. It seems a lot easier with housing because the price is the price, end of story, and is not dependent on how much we earn or how much we’ve saved. If I can’t afford a house it is because it is priced out of my range, not because I earn too much or have saved too much.

 

I just think this pricing structure makes things confusing and makes certain schools unaffordable for some families. I just wonder if there is a better way that would make prices truly affordable for more families and also for individuals who can’t rely on family support.

Because Harvard is a meets needs school, it’s not surprising that it could cost a middle income family less than a state school, unless the state school has very generous merit scholarships. Many state schools have little need based financial aid available beyond that provided by the federal government. Also, unless both you and your friend’s children are accepted to Harvard and get financial aid packages and then compare them, I wouldn’t trust what a calculator and your friend tells you. Additionally, two families with similar lifestyles can have very different underlying financial situations. In general, the meets needs schools require the Profile which is a much more thorough accounting of your financial situation than the FAFSA. Some even require their own additional information.
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. In general, the meets needs schools require the Profile which is a much more thorough accounting of your financial situation than the FAFSA. Some even require their own additional information.

 

Amen. The CSS profile really requires you to divulge all finances, including retirement funds. One year, the profile even asked about make, model and year of our cars.

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Re: your middle paragraph, and this could be where I’m understanding things wrong as I’m new to all of this, but the net price calculator consist of putting in your income and assets in order to determine the price you’re going to pay. How is that not setting a price based on income?

 

I agree that the system is confusing!

 

Think of it this way though: If a school's tuition, room & board is $40,000 per year--that's the price for every student. 

 

What the calculator tells you is how much of that money can come from other sources (Pell Grant, Merit Aid, Need-based Aid, or any other programs your child may qualify for.) It helps you figure out how much money will be due after these other sources pay on behalf of your student. (And some schools also include Loans in that original figure, so you have to look at a break-down to see what they are calling financial aid.)  

 

So...yes, for an individual, it is *in effect* different prices for different people--but there is some organization paying for that student. 

 

If you are curious how things work for or against you for the FAFSA, download the actual worksheet forms and see how much of each type of income and savings for both you and the student are used in coming up with that final EFC. I found that very helpful.

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Because Harvard is a meets needs school, it’s not surprising that it could cost a middle income family less than a state school, unless the state school has very generous merit scholarships. Many state schools have little need based financial aid available beyond that provided by the federal government. Also, unless both you and your friend’s children are accepted to Harvard and get financial aid packages and then compare them, I wouldn’t trust what a calculator and your friend tells you. Additionally, two families with similar lifestyles can have very different underlying financial situations. In general, the meets needs schools require the Profile which is a much more thorough accounting of your financial situation than the FAFSA. Some even require their own additional information.

My point with that story is that he said it to us like we were in the same boat. “If she gets into Harvard, it will only cost xyz. These private schools end up costing less than our state schools!†He said it like it was true for both our families, and if I hadn’t known to go put our numbers in, I might have assumed his numbers were also good for us.

 

I guess what I’m saying is that I can understand why so many people are touring colleges they can in no way afford or why they assume they’ll get a lot of aid or why they are confused and in a pickle whem the acceptances and financial aid packages come back.

 

You really have to tune out what you’re hearing from friends and acquaintences and do the research to see what applies in your situation. I don’t think everyone realizes that.

 

I have been doing a lot of research about merit money and where my son should apply. And even doing a lot of research and getting some helpful advice, all I can do is apply to the places I *think* will be affordable and see what comes back.

 

We thankfully have a lot of options - a good CC and some good schools within commuting distance. I am happy. But I’ve found the process confusing and a bit overwhelming.

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If you are curious how things work for or against you for the FAFSA, download the actual worksheet forms and see how much of each type of income and savings for both you and the student are used in coming up with that final EFC. I found that very helpful.

Thank you!

 

I would like to understand how all of the pieces come together.

 

I was talking to a friend about the NPC. She knows we have saved for the children and they’re saving summer earnings, but her kids are young and haven’t started saving yet. She asked if they’d be better off not saving and I honestly didn’t know. It always seems better to save than not, but I didn’t know how each financial piece affected the final price.

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I would like to understand how all of the pieces come together.

 

I was talking to a friend about the NPC. She knows we have saved for the children and they’re saving summer earnings, but her kids are young and haven’t started saving yet. She asked if they’d be better off not saving and I honestly didn’t know. It always seems better to save than not, but I didn’t know how each financial piece affected the final price.

 

No, it would definitely NOT be better not to save.

 

As a rule of thumb: parental income is "taxed" by the FAFSA at about 25% (there is an allowance based on the age of the older parent). Non-retirement parental assets are "taxed" by the FAFSA at only about 6% each year.

 

Now, student assets are taxed much higher. Savings should be in the parents' name, not the student.

A good overview and worksheet to figure out EFC is here:

https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/resources#efc

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I keep hearing people say they were penalized for saving and encouraging others not to save. With saving assessed at just under 6% (last time I checked)I just can't get on board with that advice.

 

People really need to stop listening to chatter of friends and family and figure out their own situations. Whether it is thinking your dc will get a free ride because a peer is saying her kid did, or that it isn't smart to save, or that poor people get free college, or that kids can pay their own way, or whatever the chatter is.

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People really need to stop listening to chatter of friends and family and figure out their own situations. Whether it is thinking your dc will get a free ride because a peer is saying her kid did, or that it isn't smart to save, or that poor people get free college, or that kids can pay their own way, or whatever the chatter is.

 

This. The information about the FAFSA is spelled out very clearly and is easy to find. Work through the worksheet and put your numbers in.

 

People have odd notions. Also, people have very different priorities, and you never know all facets of a family's  financial situation.

 

And people's assessment are not always rational. Some people consider it perfectly normal for a family to forgo one income for many years so a parent stays home, but at the same time consider it nuts for another family to effectively forgo one income for the years the kids are in college because they are paying mom's income in tuition. 

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This. The information about the FAFSA is spelled out very clearly and is easy to find. Work through the worksheet and put your numbers in.

 

People have odd notions. Also, people have very different priorities, and you never know all facets of a family's  financial situation.

 

And people's assessment are not always rational. Some people consider it perfectly normal for a family to forgo one income for many years so a parent stays home, but at the same time consider it nuts for another family to effectively forgo one income for the years the kids are in college because they are paying mom's income in tuition. 

 

FWIW, 

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This. The information about the FAFSA is spelled out very clearly and is easy to find. Work through the worksheet and put your numbers in.

 

People have odd notions. Also, people have very different priorities, and you never know all facets of a family's  financial situation.

 

And people's assessment are not always rational. Some people consider it perfectly normal for a family to forgo one income for many years so a parent stays home, but at the same time consider it nuts for another family to effectively forgo one income for the years the kids are in college because they are paying mom's income in tuition.

Right. And not only do people have different priorities they also mean different things when they say "free ride", "paid their own way", etc. One family gets a $60,000 tab down to $30,000 and says "dc got a generous scholarship". The next family gets the same package and says "they didn't give us much of anything".

 

Makes my head hurt.

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Amen. The CSS profile really requires you to divulge all finances, including retirement funds. One year, the profile even asked about make, model and year of our cars.

True, and yet, for our family, even though we drive older second hand cars, etc., etc., the profile schools expected 1/3 of our gross income to go in college costs. We are penalized heavily for having assets that are not officially retirement savings but which are very much retirement funds. We came to the U.S. later in our years, and so we started funding our 401 late as a result. And we are older parents. And our two children do not overlap in college. And we live in a high cost of living location. In other words, we are toast!

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This. The information about the FAFSA is spelled out very clearly and is easy to find. Work through the worksheet and put your numbers in.

 

People have odd notions. Also, people have very different priorities, and you never know all facets of a family's financial situation.

 

And people's assessment are not always rational. Some people consider it perfectly normal for a family to forgo one income for many years so a parent stays home, but at the same time consider it nuts for another family to effectively forgo one income for the years the kids are in college because they are paying mom's income in tuition.

And people would probably consider us really nuts because we we were willing to do both. First we gave up my income for several years while I stayed home, then we were willing to give all my income toward college expenses had my son chosen one of the top LACs he was accepted to where they give no merit aid, and we not surprisingly qualified for no financial aid. And because we had spent so many years, not overlapping, getting our graduate degrees, we had very little saved for college. But our plan for many years was that my job would be our college fund. Unexpectedly, it also ended up funding most of my husband’s second graduate degree. But having lived on one income for so long, we were very used to living on a tight budget.
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True, and yet, for our family, even though we drive older second hand cars, etc., etc., the profile schools expected 1/3 of our gross income to go in college costs. We are penalized heavily for having assets that are not officially retirement savings but which are very much retirement funds. We came to the U.S. later in our years, and so we started funding our 401 late as a result. And we are older parents. And our two children do not overlap in college. And we live in a high cost of living location. In other words, we are toast!

Did you try appealing your package at any of the schools? My sister was very successful in getting her daughter’s top choice Profile school to consider their somewhat unique circumstances. Her daughter received very generous financial and merit aid and finished with zero debt.
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"Somewhere" I have heard that one should *generally* expect their EFC to be approx 25% of their gross income if that is between $80,000 and $100,000, and about 33% of gross income if it is over $100,000. Does that sound about right?

 

 

I hope not. Our income approaches $80k, and when I tried the EFC calculator a little while back it came up with about 10% of our gross income. 

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Amen. The CSS profile really requires you to divulge all finances, including retirement funds. One year, the profile even asked about make, model and year of our cars.

 

That could actually work in our favor, as we are not super rich and are extremely unlikely to inherit any money prior to college. Our cars are worth practically nothing and we don't have a lot in retirement.

 

 

 

Some people consider it perfectly normal for a family to forgo one income for many years so a parent stays home, but at the same time consider it nuts for another family to effectively forgo one income for the years the kids are in college because they are paying mom's income in tuition. 

 

Yes!

 

I don't understand complaining about costs. It is what it is. It's like arguing with yourself.

 

That's the most flabbergasting part of this whole thing.

 

Like to me, life is 100% full of experiences along the lines of "Hm I wonder how much that costs. Gosh I wish this were cheaper. I guess I'll have to compromise so I can have other things I want, or I'll give something else up. Or maybe I'll put it on credit and suffer in the future." I don't go up to the counter and act all surprised, or say "well I guess we aren't eating any more". I know prices ahead of time, I plan, I budget, I let things pass me by. Housing, cars, college... it's no different than looking at vegetable prices in the supermarket.

 

The title of this thread is "Flabbergasted by friends' lack of awareness of college costs" but I wonder if this is the explanation. Maybe college is where the upper middle class hits their willingness to pay ceiling for the first time. They don't "research" before hand because they just don't research any prices like this. They don't pore over coupon sections on average, they don't watch used car dealerships for a specific used car value for months before buying. They don't have to.

 

That would be super interesting to research, whether sticker shock for college has to do with lack of cost awareness in general, due to upper-middle class (but not wealthy) income?

 

Poor but bright students are known to under-apply to colleges, probably because they are used to not getting help and not being able to afford nice things. Maybe this is the inverse.

 

Edit: Luuknam, <$80k is vastly different to $90k in terms of whether or not it puts you above or below the median, and the % you are expected to pay. So, it is reasonable that you'd pay 10% of $75k, but 20% of $90k.

Edited by Tsuga
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Well, I can see being both surprised and appalled at current college costs.  If it had risen with the rate of inflation, or even anything remotely close to the rate of inflation, it would make sense.  You go to college, it costs $3k/yr or so for tuition, great!  You have a kid, 15 years later you're looking at colleges, you figure it will be about $4k or so.  Maybe $5k.

 

Nope, it's now $11k!  

 

I mean, not looking at this a couple of years in advance is poor planning, but I can still see being surprised.  When we moved to Oregon from the Midwest I didn't really anticipate how truly tight the rental market would be.  I'd looked on craigslist and trulia for rentals and I knew it would cost about twice as much, but when I went to rental open houses and instead of one or two people looking at a house I thought was waaaaaay overpriced in the first place, there's a steady stream of people and the price has increased by $100 month from the craigslist ad.  And it was like this everywhere.  I should have known what we were getting into, but I was still surprised.

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The title of this thread is "Flabbergasted by friends' lack of awareness of college costs" but I wonder if this is the explanation. Maybe college is where the upper middle class hits their willingness to pay ceiling for the first time. They don't "research" before hand because they just don't research any prices like this. They don't pore over coupon sections on average, they don't watch used car dealerships for a specific used car value for months before buying. They don't have to.

 

That would be super interesting to research, whether sticker shock for college has to do with lack of cost awareness in general, due to upper-middle class (but not wealthy) income?

 

Edit: Luuknam, <$80k is vastly different to $90k in terms of whether or not it puts you above or below the median, and the % you are expected to pay. So, it is reasonable that you'd pay 10% of $75k, but 20% of $90k.

 

 

I think you're on to something with the former. As to the latter, $78k-$7.8k = roughly $70k. $82k-$20.5k= roughly $61k. Now, of course, those numbers are assuming 10% (from when I played with the EFC thing) and 25% (the number Hoggirl mentioned), which is why I said "I hope not". If it's much more gradual, then it could make more sense. Though $90k-$18k= $72k is more painful than $78k-$7.8k= $70k - for one, I'd assume people who make $90k have to pay more in taxes, but mostly, the drop is just way larger. Which wouldn't be that big a deal if the govt would just put out an ad to all parents, saying "look y'all, your EFC will be such that you're expected to live on low-ish $70k per year, no matter your income, unless your income was a) below that number already, or b) you can just pay out of pocket for anything and come out ahead". Anyway, I don't know that those numbers work out that way, and that's part of what this thread is about... it'd be nice if things were a bit more transparent without just filling in the calculator with zillions of possible numbers (and then of course, the actual colleges are still going to be different). 

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Oh, and I do get complaining about the costs. US colleges spend money on all sorts of things that have nothing to do with academics. Now, for private schools, they can obviously do w/e they want, but for public schools, why??? When we attended a public university in TX (UTD), the students got to vote on whether they wanted some new stuff in the student union and the sports facility (with an expected fees increase of $100 per year or semester, I forget). Most kids I knew there weren't paying for college themselves (their parents were, or they were using loans, etc). DW and I voted no (the school was already more expensive than UT). The majority of students voted yes. Guess what the university did? Listen to what the students wanted. And everybody from there on out got to pay more. There really was no need for that. Things were adequate. But hey, why not increase costs if you're not paying but you are benefiting?

 

And it's not like you can do much about it. For example, if I don't want to (or can't) pay for room and board for my kids, I'll have an extremely limited number of colleges to choose from because of commuting distance, so I can't just pick a college that's bare bones, academics only, because those just don't exist within commuting distance. 

 

(I realize that kids with student loans technically pay for it, but most 18yos just don't process an extra $100 in student loans as a meaningful difference - they're going to make plenty of money later anyway!)

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And it's not like you can do much about it. For example, if I don't want to (or can't) pay for room and board for my kids, I'll have an extremely limited number of colleges to choose from because of commuting distance, so I can't just pick a college that's bare bones, academics only, because those just don't exist within commuting distance.

You can’t estimate public universities fee hikes or overcrowding many years in advance either.

California public universities are proposing fee hikes again too, UC is proposing a $342 hike while CSU is proposing a $228 hike

 

“UC officials say increased financial aid would cover the higher costs for more than half of the system's 180,000 California resident undergraduates who already pay no tuition.

...

Christ told regents that Berkeley had added 4,700 more students since 2013-14 but has not received enough money to cover the costs of educating them. As a result, she said, the average size of lower-division engineering and computer science classes has swelled from 65 in 2011-12 to 227 last year.

...

Victoria Solkovits, a UCLA student in political science and human biology, said she receives no financial aid because her family is classified as middle-income, but she struggles to make ends meet. Her parents — one retired, the other a Los Angeles Unified teacher — are still paying off college loans for her older brother. Those expenses, she said, are not counted in federal financial aid forms.†http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-uc-regents-tuition-vote-20180124-story.html

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 Anyway, I don't know that those numbers work out that way, and that's part of what this thread is about... it'd be nice if things were a bit more transparent without just filling in the calculator with zillions of possible numbers (and then of course, the actual colleges are still going to be different). 

 

I guess my thought is, the cost of attendance is public, and the assumption of all families should be, "If I'm not poor, they're going to make me pay for it until I am."

 

That basically describes the entire college funding system.

 

You know whether you are poor or not by looking Pell Grants. If you don't qualify for Pell, you aren't poor. (Really. You'd be amazed how many desperate people there are in the US. It's utterly depressing.)

Edited by Tsuga

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Oh, and I do get complaining about the costs. US colleges spend money on all sorts of things that have nothing to do with academics. Now, for private schools, they can obviously do w/e they want, but for public schools, why??? When we attended a public university in TX (UTD), the students got to vote on whether they wanted some new stuff in the student union and the sports facility (with an expected fees increase of $100 per year or semester, I forget). Most kids I knew there weren't paying for college themselves (their parents were, or they were using loans, etc). DW and I voted no (the school was already more expensive than UT). The majority of students voted yes. Guess what the university did? Listen to what the students wanted. And everybody from there on out got to pay more. There really was no need for that. Things were adequate. But hey, why not increase costs if you're not paying but you are benefiting?

 

To answer this question: Many universities (including public ones) are becoming increasingly tuition-driven as the sources for funding dry up. Also, the population of college students is not increasing. The universities, therefore, are scrambling for students. So they are courting students, trying to get them to commit to their school. And yes, the students themselves are usually not driven by academics, but rather by cool stuff in the student union and how they "feel" when they tour the school, or by athletics, or other amenities. 

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Thought about this thread tonight as I was figuring out both our taxes and that of my current college student. We took a big tax hit this year, because our 2017 college graduate got married in August and can't be claimed as our dependent. Our expenses for her through the year were quite high: out of pocket medical expenses, health insurance premiums that we kept paying until her husband's insurance kicked in after October, rent on the college apartment that kept coming due through August, an ongoing food allowance until she got a bit of income in September from her Americorps position, loan payments...ugh.

 

And then there's the college student...taxes on the room and board portion of her financial aid on her individual return. It didn't seem too bad until we were told that it would be taxed at my husband's rate. Ouch. Then there was a penalty for underestimating the tax.

 

I have a headache.

Edited by GoodGrief

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I would like to understand how all of the pieces come together.

 

College is now priced at X for all students.  That's the published price.

 

Scene 1:  Humans recognize that many students can't pay X so want to see them get some assistance.  The Fed Gov't offers basic assistance and has come up with a formula to disperse funds to those that meet their criteria.  That criteria needs updating, but, well, it's the gov't, so it doesn't happen and we can't talk politics.  What's there is there.  

 

Continuing on, many alumni and caring folks recognize that many students still can't afford X and donate to their school to provide more aid.  Schools usually invest this and offer aid from the investment (endowment) profits.  Then THEY have to figure out how to best use that money - deciding who is worth what.  Some use the gov't Fafsa form and others use either their own or a CSS profile to help make that determination.  Their goal is to help those they find most appealing as students and what their priorities are can differ.  The final package offered is a combo of both of these for need based aid.  Any individual can think they should get more (or need more), but the college is looking at all the financial aid applicants, the budget of what they have to spend, and trying to maximize what they can do with it to attract those they like and/or feel have need.

 

Scene 2:  Colleges move up in perceived prestige and ranking by getting the "good" academic (or sports) students.  Many tippy top schools already have that prestige, so feel no need to offer money to attract top students.  Schools below that level want to move up in the ranking.  To do this they have to be attractive to top students - so attractive that they convince them to attend their school instead.  This is where merit aid comes in.  "If you come here, we'll offer you this deal."  Again, some schools have a bit they can offer and some don't.  Some put a bit into attracting the top of the top and others spread their money out offering some to many above their average incoming stat numbers.  It's whatever they feel works the best for them to attract the students they want.

 

A few colleges spell out what attracts them.  Meet that and you get Y.  Most schools do not.  Getting $$ is competitive.  One doesn't necessarily even know how competitive.  Winners tend to be happy.  Losers aren't.

 

But anyone who can get admitted can pay full price.  There's no "change in price" in general other than Scene 1 or 2 (and two can come with athletics as well as academics).

 

Oh, and I do get complaining about the costs. US colleges spend money on all sorts of things that have nothing to do with academics. Now, for private schools, they can obviously do w/e they want, but for public schools, why??? 

 

Schools that do not keep up with all the extras are quickly perceived as bad.  Looks matter.  What's offered matters.  Few folks want to buy the fixer upper, but they gush over the newly remodeled.  It doesn't matter if it's houses or colleges.  I can't count the number of parents (online or IRL) who come back from a school calling it "dumpy" and giving terrific complements to the other school that isn't.  It can be dorms, gyms, cafeterias, classrooms, or just pure red carpet treatment at the visit.

 

People say they don't want the frills, but reality just doesn't pan out that way - not with enough people anyway.

 

Then, some of those folks do the hiring.  Are they likely to hire from the school they consider a dump?

 

It's all marketing, yes, but marketing does make a huge difference IRL.

 

FWIW, some schools also tried to only raise the tuition/fees to what the upgrades actually cost.  This made them more affordable, so they thought they'd be more attractive.  Not so.  Less cost = less good in the minds of many humans.  They've raised their prices and now offer more "aid" across the board to try to do that attracting mentioned above.

 

I don't know that I can find any links about this now, but some years ago when this was going on there were at least a couple of articles about it.  One might be able to find them with google.  To this day I still see the results of the marketing among students at school.  That t-shirt they were sent or snail mail they get can make an awful lot of difference to them (and their parents).

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I think it might already be - her daughter is a senior. She's a "senior recruit," so she is, according to my friends, sort of lower tier athletically? I don't really know about that, but I took it to mean that schools are now filling slots that others recruited earlier did not take.

 

These are somewhat delicate conversations to have. Daughter received a call last night and was offered $17,000 per year somewhere. I don't know where. If that is on a tab of $50-$60k per year, it probably doesn't make enough of a difference. They did say they would not co-sign loans, but I don't know how much cash they are willing to put in. And, until intold them, they didn't realize daughter was limited in amount she herself could borrow. I think part of the issue is the unknown about athletic scholarship $. Mom claims some are upfront but others won't show their hand unless they visit. Like I said, waaayyy outside my realm of knowledge. I certainly don't doubt what she says, but I feel like there could be at least more awareness of what *might* be offered with some research.

 

The daughter has no desire to stay in-state - even though I know she was recruited by a very affordable regional school. Her mom said she wouldn't consider it. I think there has been a bit of magical thinking/entitlement on the daughter's part coupled with a lack of awareness/communication on the parents' part. Plan B is going to be the local CC, but I think daughter only realized that late in the game.

I don't get the idea of parents having to co sign loans. Not from the perspective of the lender, but from the borrower. Seems Iike that should be a clear indicator to the family that they can't afford the school.

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I hope not. Our income approaches $80k, and when I tried the EFC calculator a little while back it came up with about 10% of our gross income. 

 

That puts you in a good position, considering the Excelsior scholarship's free tuition and your low cost of living area....

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Sorry guys, the "why????" was mostly meant rhetorically. I get why universities keep increasing amenities and costs etc. I'm just saying that as a consumer, it's really sucky when you do just want to pay for the academics, so I don't see an issue with complaining. For example:

 

I don't understand complaining about costs. It is what it is. It's like arguing with yourself.

 

Like to me, life is 100% full of experiences along the lines of "Hm I wonder how much that costs. Gosh I wish this were cheaper. I guess I'll have to compromise so I can have other things I want, or I'll give something else up. Or maybe I'll put it on credit and suffer in the future." I don't go up to the counter and act all surprised, or say "well I guess we aren't eating any more". I know prices ahead of time, I plan, I budget, I let things pass me by. Housing, cars, college... it's no different than looking at vegetable prices in the supermarket.

 

If I were required to pay an activity fee when buying a zucchini, I'd be mad, and I'm pretty sure everybody would be mad, rather than just saying "it is what it is". So, I don't get why we think it's okay when buying a Abstract Algebra class. I get why universities do it, but I don't get why, as a society, we don't just get the government to say "no", and to make sure there is an affordable public no-frills academics option. People who want fancy stuff would still be able to go to private school and pay out the wazoo for w/e frills they want. 

 

Again, I think a large part of the problem is that higher ed is basically an oligopoly - unless you can and are willing to pay for room and board, there are very few choices, a lot fewer than grocery stores. If there were as many universities in an area as there were grocery stores, there probably would be an Aldi of higher ed available (no frills, basic academics), and a Trader Joe's of higher ed (no frills, better academics), etc. Obviously, you can't have as many universities as grocery stores... so more govt regulation seems called for. According to Wikipedia, most states already have laws against product tying, which is essentially what I'm talking about here:

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tying_(commerce)

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. If there were as many universities in an area as there were grocery stores, there probably would be an Aldi of higher ed available (no frills, basic academics), and a Trader Joe's of higher ed (no frills, better academics), etc. Obviously, you can't have as many universities as grocery stores... so more govt regulation seems called for.

 

You actually do have this scenario in the academic landscape in the US. Community college is your Aldi. Lower tier 4 y state U is you generic grocery store. Top state U your Trader Joes. Exclusive private your specialty health food store.

 

More government regulation is most definitely not the answer. All government meddling accomplishes is lower academic productivity. If state governments would just hold up their end of the bargain and fund higher ed as they had promised, college would be much more affordable.

 

And most colleges are pretty low frill. My DD's dorm at the #3 ranked school in the country was old and crummy, and the dining hall food very basic and low quality. There's nothing fancy about DS' dorm either.

And our local public U? Not sure what "frills" you'd find. 

 

As a parent of students in residence, I definitely want my kids to live in sanitary, clean dorms that are up to safety code. And to be able to work out in a gym on campus, because it is good for their physical and mental health. And to have nutritious food options. Because it would be a waste of my tuition dollars if the living situation stressed them out of if they got sick.

 

Now, what bugs me is professors requiring current editions of textbooks with online access codes, requiring $125 lab manuals, requiring substandard overpriced textbooks they have authored. 

Edited by regentrude
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You actually do have this scenario in the academic landscape in the US. Community college is your Aldi. Lower tier 4 y state U is you generic grocery store. Top state U your Trader Joes. Exclusive private your specialty health food store.

 

More government regulation is most definitely not the answer. All government meddling accomplishes is lower academic productivity. If state governments would just hold up their end of the bargain and fund higher ed as they had promised, college would be much more affordable.

 

And most colleges are pretty low frill. My DD's dorm at the #3 ranked school in the country was old and crummy, and the dining hall food very basic and low quality. There's nothing fancy about DS' dorm either.

And our local public U? Not sure what "frills" you'd find. 

 

As a parent of students in residence, I definitely want my kids to live in sanitary, clean dorms that are up to safety code. And to be able to work out in a gym on campus, because it is good for their physical and mental health. And to have nutritious food options. Because it would be a waste of my tuition dollars if the living situation stressed them out of if they got sick.

 

 

You realize that in plenty of other countries, universities don't even have dorms, and that if you want to go to the gym, you use a gym available in the community, just like everybody else. That's what "no frills, just academics" means. And it cuts down on costs a lot. 

 

ETA: I don't think there are any universities or CCs in my area without a gym (though I haven't looked into this extensively, so I could be wrong). Again, why? There are a zillion other gyms people can join, so it's not like students would be unable to use a gym if the college didn't have one.

Edited by luuknam
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Basically, it's nice and all that you want your student to have those amenities, and are willing and able to pay for them. But they add costs for everyone, including for the people who can't or aren't willing to pay for them, making it harder for some kids to get a college degree. And that's wrong. At the very least, if universities are going to have a gym, they should make it an optional expense. 

 

ETA: anyone can run laps around campus for exercise, it's not like gyms are a necessity to get exercise in.

Edited by luuknam
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You realize that in plenty of other countries, universities don't even have dorms, and that if you want to go to the gym, you use a gym available in the community, just like everybody else. That's what "no frills, just academics" means. And it cuts down on costs a lot.

 

ETA: I don't think there are any universities or CCs in my area without a gym (though I haven't looked into this extensively, so I could be wrong). Again, why? There are a zillion other gyms people can join, so it's not like students would be unable to use a gym if the college didn't have one.

I actually have no problem with on-campus gyms, as it makes it easier for everyone (students, faculty, staff) to work out and be healthy. As far as dorms, many housing departments are self-supporting. They are funded entirely by the fees students using them pay. At our state schools, students pay exactly for what they are getting, right down to the square footage, age of dorm, bathroom access, number of roommates, etc.

 

Based on my son’s experience in Germany, the biggest difference seemed to be very little in the way of student services, and those that were provided (such as an international student office) had very, very limited hours. Also, much less administrative overhead. And of course absolutely no intercollegiate sports teams. They did have both dorms and a gym.

 

If someone really wants nothing but academics then maybe online is the best option.

Edited by Frances
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Basically, it's nice and all that you want your student to have those amenities, and are willing and able to pay for them. But they add costs for everyone, including for the people who can't or aren't willing to pay for them, making it harder for some kids to get a college degree. And that's wrong. At the very least, if universities are going to have a gym, they should make it an optional expense.

 

ETA: anyone can run laps around campus for exercise, it's not like gyms are a necessity to get exercise in.

Actually, not everyone can do that. For several years my son has not been able to run for exercise due to a knee issue, but at the gym there are several options that work for him. And I’m not sure an opt-in option is the best way to encourage exercise and health. Maybe I could see an opt-out option.

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If someone really wants nothing but academics then maybe online is the best option.

 

 

Online academics is not the same as in-person academics (how would you even do biochemistry labs etc online?). I don't think it's fair to say "just do online". I do agree that it's not just about the gym, but a lot of student services, etc. The gym was just an example. The point was the insane amount of product tying in US universities. 

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Actually, not everyone can do that. For several years my son has not been able to run for exercise due to a knee issue, but at the gym there are several options that work for him. And I’m not sure an opt-in option is the best way to encourage exercise and health. Maybe I could see an opt-out option.

 

 

Right, I didn't mean *literally* everyone. I'm just saying, we don't give everyone a mandatory gym membership, so why would we give college students a mandatory gym membership? People in general who want to use the gym, buy a membership somewhere and go there. But college students are special snowflakes?

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You realize that in plenty of other countries, universities don't even have dorms, and that if you want to go to the gym, you use a gym available in the community, just like everybody else. That's what "no frills, just academics" means. And it cuts down on costs a lot. .

 

Yes. And in most other countries universities are not expected to act as parents, but treat students as adults. This means sink or swim; universities are not responsible for providing health services, counseling, learning assistance, team building. This is not the model desired in the US.

 

I am very much against mandatory dorm residence requirements; sadly, many schools have those. But you are free to choose a college that does not. And then you do not pay for the dorms - that is part of the room&board fees they charge to students who actually live in the dorm. A commuter students does not pay for dorms.

 

Lets keep things in perspective. The student activity fees are not what makes college expensive; that is a tiny fraction.

Mostly, college is expensive because it costs a ton to maintain buildings and hire qualified professors.

 

ETA: The biggest budget item of our uni is overwhelmingly personnel cost.

Edited by regentrude
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Online academics is not the same as in-person academics (how would you even do biochemistry labs etc online?). I don't think it's fair to say "just do online". I do agree that it's not just about the gym, but a lot of student services, etc. The gym was just an example. The point was the insane amount of product tying in US universities.

I think part of the difference between us and many other countries is that we are the land of second chances. In general, we don’t track students from a young age. We don’t have certain schools or exams in order to be able to attend any college or university. So at least some of the need for student services is because we have a reasonable number of students who actually need those services, partly because some of our high schools are so crappy and partly because we basically allow everyone to go to college. When my son was in Germany, that was not really the case. At least at his university, you weren’t even allowed to pursue his major (chemistry) unless you had attended the correct type of high school and performed to a certain level. And if we took these services away at state schools, then the students who need them would only be left with privates. When people talk about making public schools free or much cheaper, I often wonder if they are also ready to drastically curtail access.

 

For me, the biggest issues are the large number of administrators, intercollegiate sports, and the arms race for fancy facilities.

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Lets keep things in perspective. The student activity fees are not what makes college expensive; that is a tiny fraction.

 

 

Look, I'm not saying it would make college cheap. But if you can get the cost down from $10k/year to $9k/year by getting rid of the student activity fee and a couple of other things, that'd make a difference to some people. I get that for many people that'd be kind of a w/e difference, either because it'd still be too expensive or because they're willing and capable of paying $1k more per year. But every little bit adds up. 

 

Realistically, college costs have not skyrocketed over the past few decades because professor salaries have skyrocketed, nor because building costs have. Or are you saying they have?

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Realistically, college costs have not skyrocketed over the past few decades because professor salaries have skyrocketed, nor because building costs have. Or are you saying they have?

 

Not the salaries, but the cost of benefits has. Health care has gotten way more expensive; people live longer, so pension cost has risen.

Now, before you say don't offer benefits then: you would not get qualified professors to forgo the much higher salaries they would earn in industry to come teach in academia, unless you offer health care and some kind of retirement plan.

 

Colleges cut benefit costs where they can. At our uni, recent hires are no longer eligible for the pension plan the people got who were hired 15 years ago. Retirees are no longer allowed to buy into the group health insurance plan. 

 

But the present health care and pension obligations are expensive, and cost is rising, even though salaries are stagnant.

And this is accompanied by continuous cuts in state funding.

Edited by regentrude
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Right, I didn't mean *literally* everyone. I'm just say ing, we don't give everyone a mandatory gym membership, so why would we give college students a mandatory gym membership? People in general who want to use the gym, buy a membership somewhere and go there. But college students are special snowflakes?

 

Colleges are not all located in areas where gyms exist. or neighborhoods where there is a safe area to run or bike.  That little problem of how to make money when school is not in session, plus how to serve that many people.. no deserted mall for planet fitness to move in either.   The problem I've always heard is that the college gym is not able to handle the demand, and is charging intramurals for facility use...so the average student is getting nothing from their athletic fee except the opportunity to pay more for using the facilities or watching a game.  The faculty is getting limited daytime hours, and the bulk of the hours go to the teams representing the school plus the rentals to high school sports. Often student use hours conflict with class hours or sleep hours...my dc for example, lift weights after ten p.m., cause that's when the weight room is open to students. 

So, special snowflakes, no....but definitely seen as wallets instead of patrons.

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Not the salaries, but the cost of benefits has. Health care has gotten way more expensive; people live longer, so pension cost has risen.

Now, before you say don't offer benefits then: you would not get qualified professors to forgo the much higher salaries they would earn in industry to come teach in academia, unless you offer health care and some kind of retirement plan.

 

Colleges cut benefit costs where they can. At our uni, recent hires are no longer eligible for the pension plan the people got who were hired 15 years ago. Retirees are no longer allowed to buy into the group health insurance plan.

 

But the present health care and pension obligations are expensive, and cost is rising, even though salaries are stagnant.

And this is accompanied by continuous cuts in state funding.

And at least in my state, they finally realized that regardless of how long people live, the pension plan was crazy generous, with some people retiring at more than 100% of their salary. They’ve ratcheted it down twice, but the costs of the people already retired or set to retire under the original system are just increasing and will not go away for many, many years. Legally, they cannot now go back and retroactively change promised benefits, so all state services including k12 and higher education are paying the price and will for many years to come.

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Not the salaries, but the cost of benefits has. Health care has gotten way more expensive; people live longer, so pension cost has risen.

Now, before you say don't offer benefits then: you would not get qualified professors to forgo the much higher salaries they would earn in industry to come teach in academia, unless you offer health care and some kind of retirement plan.

 

 

I wasn't going to suggest not offering benefits. I get that you have to compensate people in order to do their job, which typically consists of salary and benefits (and if you don't offer benefits, you're going to have to offer a significantly higher salary). Paying professors would be one of the main necessities in running a university - you can't offer classes if you don't have people teaching them (nor do research if you don't have researchers). 

 

It's just that the perception, at least, is that colleges have been using more and more underpaid adjuncts and grad students, and that the main increase in tuition+fees for college is from things other than professor salaries+benefits. And yes, it's my understanding that less state funding is a part of that. But that frills are too. And frills should be the easiest to get rid of, since they're not part of the core mission of the university, which is teaching + research, not facilities, sports, administration of various things unrelated to academics, etc, etc, etc.

Edited by luuknam
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And in the end it doesn't matter to me why costs have gone up - it matters what can be done to bring them down without affecting the quality of education. That basically leaves increasing state funding, and cutting frills. 

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And at least in my state, they finally realized that regardless of how long people live, the pension plan was crazy generous, with some people retiring at more than 100% of their salary. 

 

wow, that is crazy.

Our formula was 2% of salary for every year you worked while being benefit eligible (i.e. not adjunct, not part time). To get to 100%, you'd  have to work for 50 years for the institution. 

But even that has been scrapped in the meantime.

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Sorry guys, the "why????" was mostly meant rhetorically. I get why universities keep increasing amenities and costs etc. I'm just saying that as a consumer, it's really sucky when you do just want to pay for the academics, so I don't see an issue with complaining. For example:

 

 

If I were required to pay an activity fee when buying a zucchini, I'd be mad, and I'm pretty sure everybody would be mad, rather than just saying "it is what it is". So, I don't get why we think it's okay when buying a Abstract Algebra class. I get why universities do it, but I don't get why, as a society, we don't just get the government to say "no", and to make sure there is an affordable public no-frills academics option. People who want fancy stuff would still be able to go to private school and pay out the wazoo for w/e frills they want. 

 

Again, I think a large part of the problem is that higher ed is basically an oligopoly - unless you can and are willing to pay for room and board, there are very few choices, a lot fewer than grocery stores.

 

 

Yes, I can see disagreeing with how they spend their money, but in the OP's example, they were surprised by the price.

 

If you don't want to spend money on athletics there are choices. Room and board if you share a room, even in a big city, is still within the reach of someone working a 40 hour week over the summer.

 

Also yes, grocery stores are a relatively low barrier to entry business so there's more competition. However, even the poor are pushed on that. And Whole Foods charges more across the board for literally everything, but lots (and I mean LOTS) of well-off people shop there without even considering the fact that they are paying a marketing fee for their zucchini. Which of course is what an activity fee is essentially: a fee to pay for a huge expensive marketing device.

 

do get irritated about the prices at WF to myself (they don't have their own organic farmers, peeps, it's the same as Wal-Mart organics... and WF isn't even unionized...). But I'm not surprised. I'm not unaware. That's the difference. The lack of awareness is what is surprising, not the dissatisfaction. 

 

Obviously, most of us would rather make more and pay less in every respect. People are dissatisfied with college costs, that's known, but many of us aren't facing this for the first time our kids' junior year of high school, and we also aren't getting up to the counter at Whole Foods saying "this zucchini costs too much! What am I paying for, your prime real estate location?" 

Edited by Tsuga

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I think part of the difference between us and many other countries is that we are the land of second chances. In general, we don’t track students from a young age. We don’t have certain schools or exams in order to be able to attend any college or university. So at least some of the need for student services is because we have a reasonable number of students who actually need those services, partly because some of our high schools are so crappy and partly because we basically allow everyone to go to college. When my son was in Germany, that was not really the case. At least at his university, you weren’t even allowed to pursue his major (chemistry) unless you had attended the correct type of high school and performed to a certain level. And if we took these services away at state schools, then the students who need them would only be left with privates. When people talk about making public schools free or much cheaper, I often wonder if they are also ready to drastically curtail access.

 

Curtail? No.

 

But I see students ... well, that's generous ... enrollees ... in my class, who have two straight semesters of <1.0 gpa and are being given ANOTHER chance, with extra support. For these, the problem typically IS that they have not been trying. When I see someone who attended <50% of the classes last semester and failed everything back in my class, I wonder why. Why?! The people who had something like a 1.4 often recover. But not the ones who are really, really low. 

 

I'm okay with second chances. I love second chances and I love that we give them. But we could save a fair amount by stopping trying to stuff people through who aren't even showing up. Don't kick them out forever. But a semester off for the first sub 1.0 semester and two for the second, and continued increasing, seems totally reasonable. They eat up a massively disproportional amount of time from student services, trying to track them down for meetings when I do early reports for failing students. 

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Not sure why it isn’t working for me to quote kiana. Anyway, I completely agree that your proposed system would be far better than what we have now in some schools. Heck, I think lots of college students would be better off in votech or apprentice programs or waiting to attend when they are more mature.

 

On the other hand, I don’t think some people in the US realize or understand how restricted university access is in some countries with free or very low cost tuition.

Edited by Frances
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Another aspect that has not been discussed:

in order to achieve a culture where alumni strongly identify with their institutions (because unless they do, they will not feel compelled to donate large sums of money), it is necessary not only to offer strong academics, but to carefully craft a school spirit through joint experiences outside the classroom. I wonder to what degree dorm requirements and student events are directly designed to foster this team spirit and identification with the alma mater. 

 

This is something I have never observed in Germany (where, as pp pointed out, most students do not live in dorms, college does perform parental role, students fend for themselves.) People don't identify with their college. You won't find many people wearing college sweatshirts, parents wearing apparel from their kids' college, etc. It is not a "thing". Consequently, there is also no culture of alumni donating to their alma mater.

Edited by regentrude
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wow, that is crazy.

Our formula was 2% of salary for every year you worked while being benefit eligible (i.e. not adjunct, not part time). To get to 100%, you'd have to work for 50 years for the institution.

But even that has been scrapped in the meantime.

Yes, our new system (which I fall under) is 1.5% for each year of service. The original system was very complicated, but one of the main things that led to the craziness was separate accounts where employees could direct much of their benefit that were guaranteed an 8% return regardless of market conditions, but could be credited with much higher returns at the discretion of the board (most of whom were beneficiaries) and then a money match option for those accounts at retirement. The value of all accumulated unused sick and vacation days was also included in determining final salary for pension purposes.
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Curtail? No.

 

But I see students ... well, that's generous ... enrollees ... in my class, who have two straight semesters of <1.0 gpa and are being given ANOTHER chance, with extra support. For these, the problem typically IS that they have not been trying. When I see someone who attended <50% of the classes last semester and failed everything back in my class, I wonder why. Why?! The people who had something like a 1.4 often recover. But not the ones who are really, really low. 

 

I'm okay with second chances. I love second chances and I love that we give them. But we could save a fair amount by stopping trying to stuff people through who aren't even showing up. Don't kick them out forever. But a semester off for the first sub 1.0 semester and two for the second, and continued increasing, seems totally reasonable. They eat up a massively disproportional amount of time from student services, trying to track them down for meetings when I do early reports for failing students. 

 

Aren't these underrepresented groups?  Here they are getting a lot of support services to make it thru the first year, trying to bridge the gap between the low expectations high school and the culture clash.  CUNY is having good success, from what the NYT says.

 

also, admin for Title IX and for veterans's affairs add up to a lot of inclusion cost

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Legally, they cannot now go back and retroactively change promised benefits,

 

Not that some states haven't tried. Before he retired, my FIL was a professor for a well-known state university system. When they tried to change the promised benefits everything ended up in court. After a protracted and nasty legal battle, everyone was back where they started, minus lawyers' fees. So rather than finding something in the middle by reducing the current promise and giving more to the newcomers, they ended up giving a lot to the faculty that was grandfathered in and almost nothing to the new faculty. My FIL was of the mind that it should be more spread out not just for fairness, but also to attract better young professors, but it was not to be. My in-laws ended up donating money to the school instead, which they still feel was a second-best option.

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