I teach at the University of South Carolina, where tuition and fees are over $10K a year. To my knowledge, the same is true of all the other four-year colleges in the state (Clemson, College of Charleston, Lander, USC Upstate, The Citadel etc.)
Not as outrageous as private school tuition, but it's still a very substantial burden, especially when you factor in food and housing as well.
My impression is that this is quite typical for the US. I would be delighted to learn that I am mistaken.
Have fun trying to get your credits to transfer. I had trouble getting credits to transfer from the Air Force Academy to a state college. They want you to do them there. They would take them as generic credit hours but it was an uphill battle to get them to actually satisfy graduation requirements (which are the real thing that keeps you from graduating, you will already have enough credit hours).
So first two years cheap at community college for an AA/AS then you only have two years for your bachelors at a more expensive school.
So it looks cheap to me, assuming the housing isn't insane. I think there is a reasonable assumption that a person gets loans, chooses a sensible major, and actually graduates.
I'm of the opinion that, at least in the US, we romanticized the idea of "going off to college" to "find yourself". It is assumed to be this huge drug-fueled, party sex orgy that is funded on essentially credit.
That is how it was when I first went away to college in 1994; I think I paid around $3k a year tuition at University of Missouri. I started planning a 529 for my kids this week and was shocked to find that in state tuition here (South Carolina) is $15K a year for just tuition and fees. I'm scared to imagine what it will be in ten years.
Without a doubt college is a lot more expensive, and it is much harder to find a school doing things cheaper. Which is why my kids will likely just live at home and get their degrees online. They'll miss out on some college experiences which they can then make up for by not being $80k in the hole when they graduate. I mean most kids are on a 25 year payment plan, which is basically their entire working life.
The older one practiced worldly prudence, courted during high school, got engaged at beginning of college, and waited almost a decade until after her fiancé graduated before they got married and started to have children. But now he can't get a job with his degree (pharmacist), she works at some retail job as a manager, and the whole family lives with her parents. He's in >$100,000 debt and briefly went to a medical facility during a nervous breakdown after realizing he realistically can't pay it back.
The younger sister had no such ambitions. Courted in high school, got engaged, married right out of high school, immediately started a family, he works at Walmart making higher than average money, and she stays at home raising the kids. They also live with her parents in the same house.
True stories. This all happened over the past 7 years.
I would say the prudence of the second couple vastly outshines the "prudence" of the first couple.
By the way you phrase it, the outcome of the older sister hinged upon the husband failing to get a job as a pharmacist. If he had successfully landed a job, the outcome of your story would be very different.
The same argument could be made for the younger sister. What happens when Walmart downsizes, and the husband is out of job with a background only in retail?
I'm not sure it is worth citing or criticizing the 'prudence' of either couple.
The second couple had a family immediately, have no debt, and are otherwise in the exact same situation as the first couple.
And the couple that had children sooner, are younger and more energetic, and also have less stressful jobs that allow them to spend more time and better quality time with them.
Also there is a real value in having the mom stay at home full time where she can teach their children their own values and guard them from bad practices or influences at such an impressionable age.
Getting a PharmD used to be a golden ticket. Then a ton of schools opened up and flooded the market. Wages are actually on the way down and from what I've heard, the retail jobs really suck.