Terrorized by the runaway cost of college

Paying for college is the stuff of nightmares. This summer when my family went camping at Deception Pass State Park I woke up from the worst dream I’ve had in years.

I dreamt that I was an archetype mother. My son — who was not really my son but an actor from television — was all grown up. He was showing me a steam locomotive he refurbished. It had the words “College Tuition” inscribed right next to the smoke stack.

The whole room felt warm and steamy because the coal fire was burning. My son pulled the train’s whistle and it was everything a train whistle should be. “This is wonderful,” I thought, “I’m very impressed.” I looked around at the crowd of spectators who nodded with approval.

Then, in the very next moment, the engine exploded and red hot embers spewed out at the audience.

I remember thinking two things: “Oh, my gosh! My son might be hurt,” and what was almost worse, “Oh, no! My son is hurting other people.”

The crowd of onlookers was either dead, burning or slowly dying of smoke inhalation. I did my best to help them, but I woke up hearing them scream.

I spent the next hour wide awake in our tent. I replayed the dream over and over in my head, trying to process it. As I listened to waves crash on the beach, I remembered that right before I fell asleep I thought about how much fun it would be to go to Hawaii. “We should live a little,” I thought. “My kids won’t be young forever.”

One part of that sentiment is definitely true. My children will be 18 before I know it. Tuition bills loom ahead.

I’ve heard pundits say that college costs are like a runaway train. But my brain is telling me that college costs are a locomotive blowing up in my face and hurting all of us.

When I graduated fifteen years ago the private university I attended cost $30,000 a year. Nowadays, it costs $62,801. That’s way more than a student could finance herself through part-time jobs.

The total cost of attendance for the University of Washington at present is $27,112 a year. Western Washington University costs $22,670. How can kids afford this?

Clearly, it’s time for mom and dad to come up with a better college savings plan. Don’t worry. I’ve got it all figured out.

My family likes camping, right? We could set up the tent in our backyard — for the next 20 years. Then we’ll rent out our house and live on dandelions and blackberries. All the money we save can be funneled into 529 accounts and GET. I suppose we’ll have to work out some deal with the neighbors where we can use their shower, but that’s no big deal.

Saving for college — done! But what about retirement? Hmm … I’ll need another strategy.

Can you make money selling your own blood?

Jennifer Bardsley is an Edmonds mom of two and blogs at teachingmybabytoread.com.

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