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Ever since I watched the news coverage of the Pumpkin Festival riots at Keene State College in New Hampshire last weekend, I've had a sick feeling in my stomach when I think of what
must be going through the minds of the parents of the students who were involved.
Imagine watching that video footage, just praying that your kid's image does not show up,
beer bottle in hand, on the Fox 25 News for all the world to see.
With two of my own kids in college, I'm fully aware of how peer pressure can motivate good
kids to do stupid, dangerous and sometimes very expensive things.
And I'm not even talking about the old "one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch" theory
here. I'm operating on the assumption that every one of the kids who was smart enough to
gain admission to Keene State was, in fact, a "good kid." But there's a dynamic that comes
into play when groups of teenagers or young adults get together, especially when alcohol
I'm not a psychologist so I don't know if it's some sort of one-upmanship, or just bravado
in front of your friends and the ladies, or what. But I do know that all hell broke loose
in Keene last weekend and most of the protagonists were the children of adult parents who
are paying tens of thousands of dollars a year to send their kids to college there. Yikes.
It's going to be interesting to see how the Keene State administration deals with the
horrifying publicity the school is suffering through this week. After all, college is a
business, and a business with a bad reputation usually isn't in business for long.
I hope the administration and the police can identify some "out-of-town" culprits to pin
some of the blame on. But it's a safe bet that at least a few Keene State students are
going to get the boot, if only to send a message.
Obviously, you feel bad for the parents of the kids who get kicked out. They're going to
lose thousands of dollars that they paid for this fall's tuition, room and board, student
fees, books, transportation, etc. And where will those kids end up now?
But I also feel bad for the parents of all of the current Keene State students, even those who weren't at the Pumpkin Festival. They must be sitting home wondering whether or not they've made a big mistake sending their kids to Keene State.
The whole college selection and financing process is such a crap shoot and soooo
expensive to begin with, it just doesn't make sense. Where to go, what to major in, how to fill out the applications so you get admitted, how to fill out the financial aid forms so you can
afford to pay for college with out going into debt for life. Where do you start? Who do
you turn to for advice?
The answer is that you start early, do as much research as possible, and seek help from
multiple sources. Your high school guidance department is a good place to begin. The
internet also offers a wealth of information, and most of it is free and some of it is
Did you know that colleges keep statistics on what percentage of their student body
regularly engages in underage alcohol use? They do.
Did you know that you can research, not just a school's drop-out rate, but also its
percentage of student loan defaults? Let's face it, if a certain college has a high
student loan default rate, it either means kids aren't graduating, or when they do,
they're not getting jobs that pay them enough to make their loan payments. Maybe because they spent too much time flipping cars at the Pumpkin Festival and not enough time at the library. Either way, that's a big red flag.
There are two major publications -- the Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report --
that do annual rankings of tons of colleges, and they even break them down by categories.
And there are fee-based companies that not only help you decide which colleges to apply
to, but they also coach you through the financial aid application process. You pay up
front, but they often help you qualify for thousands of dollars more in financial aid
(every year) than you would have qualified for on your own.
Experience has taught me this -- those who start early and seek advice from many sources
usually end up making better decisions and spending way less money on their kids' college
Rick Spencer is a certified College Funding Advisor associated with the American College
He has two daughters currently in college. Questions for Rick? You can reach him at
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