Tag Archives: college costs

Don’t discount the quality of community colleges

Once considered a “stepchild” of higher education, many community colleges are now innovators and well deserving of the title.

Half of all current college students attend a community college.

Federal and state funding for community colleges has increased over the past several years and a great deal is being done at the community college level to match majors with workforce needs.

I recommend, especially if finances are a major issue for you, taking a serious look at enrolling in a two year school first and then transferring to a four-year college or university.

This will save you the cost of a four-year bachelor’s degree at a more expensive school while still allowing you to graduate with a degree from that four year school.  Most community college students live at home so that saves you the cost of residence hall expenses.  And most community college students work and do not borrow to meet living expenses.

If you decide to go the community college route, do the same investigation that you would do if you planned on attending a four year school.

  •  Find out the successful transfer rate of the community college, the schools students transfer into, the percentage of students who stay for two years, the most popular majors, and the average debt.
  •  Find out how many of the students with an associate’s degree get a job at graduation.
  • Be certain that your future career interests can be met by the curriculum.

I have a colleague who recently told me that he put all three of his children through college and graduate school with a cumulative debt of $90,000.  And all three first attended a community college!

Is the return on college investment all about your college major?

Is the return on college investment all about one’s college major?

Plenty of newspaper and magazine pieces are being published these days about some aspect of the return on a college investment (ROI).

Often the information focuses on college costs.  But increasingly information linking ROI and college majors is taking center stage.  

A recent report by the Pew Research Center revealed a significant number of graduating students wished they had selected a different major.  And only one in three students who took a recent ACT college assessment test intended to major in a subject that was a good fit for their strengths and preferences.

Recently, Doug Belkin, a writer for The Wall Street Journal, convened a group of experts to discuss the importance of selecting the right college major. The following is some of the advice outlined in Mr. Belkin’s article.

  • No major can guarantee a well- paying job after graduation.
  • If students change majors frequently, they will probably not be able to graduate in four years.
  • Colleges and universities should invest early in assisting students with undecided majors to narrow their choices.
  • College is not just about ROI. It’s about learning and growing intellectually and academically.  You cannot put a price on that.

College GuideThe New College Guide: How to Get In, Get Out, and Get a Job recommends:

  • Don’t worry if you do not have a declared major when you begin your college education.  Many of the best schools in the country do not allow students to declare a major until the end of the first or second year.
  • Don’t select a major based on a good starting salary. It will not work. You will be unhappy and life is not about spending your day being unhappy.

Author’s note: I graduated from college with a degree to teach high school.  I realized after student teaching that this is not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  So I became a college administrator and I was very, very happy with that decision.

What is a College Financial Aid Package?

You know your child is headed for college and you also know your family is going to need financial aid to pay for your child’s education.

You are certainly not alone. In the last two posts, we covered facts you need to know about college financial aid and explained the all-important FAFSA.

college graduationOnce your family has filed a FAFSA and the EFC has been calculated, the staff of the financial aid office will determine what financial aid you are eligible to receive.

The official form letter you receive will list the type and amount of the aid you will receive.  That includes funding from:

 

  • Grants
  • Loans
  • Employment
  • Federal Aid
  • State Aid
  • Institutional Aid
  • Outside organization or private funding sources.

Examples of What Your Financial Aid Package Will Include:

Grant Programs

  • The largest federal grant program is the Pell Grant Program. Awards range from $600 to $5,500.
  • Most colleges and universities, especially private schools, have their own grant programs and awards are usually based on outstanding high school grades.  Individual states also sponsor grant programs.  Check your state’s website for further information.

Loan Programs

  • One popular federal loan program is the Perkins Loan Program. The current interest rate is 5% and the maximum amount is $5,500 per year.
  • Stafford loans are federally subsidized loans and have an interest rate of 3.4%.
  • Freshmen can receive $3,500, sophomores $4,500 and juniors and seniors $5,500 to meet their educational expenses.
  • Parent Loans to Undergraduate Students (PLUS) allow parents to borrow up to the total cost of education minus any financial aid awarded.  The interest rate is 7.9%.

Work Programs

  • The federal Work-Study program allows students to work part-time usually on-campus.
  • Many colleges and universities sponsor their own employment programs.

The New College Guide by Marguerite-J-Dennis FeaturedThe New College Guide: How to Get It, Get Out, and Get a Job recommends:

  • Compare all of your estimated financial aid awards before you apply.
  • Be honest and accurate in completing all of your financial aid forms.
  • Calculate your estimated loan bill with an estimate of what your first year salary is likely to be.  I recommend allocating 15% of your first year’s salary to meeting your loan bill.
  • Make employment an essential part of your financial aid plan.
  • Financial aid counselors can exercise professional judgment to increase your award if you can make a good case.

Mr. Cohen cuts class, misses notes; not college costs

In an opinion piece published in the March 21 edition of the New York Times, attorney Steve Cohen suggests a quick way to cut college costs would be for Congress to reduce by 75 percent the “estimated family contribution,” or EFC, for middle class families with children headed to college or university.

I believe Mr. Cohen is mistaken and submitted to the Times a letter in rebuttal:

I must respectfully disagree with a basic premise in Mr. Cohen’s Op-Ed article in today’s New York Times.

It is folly for a family to spend time and money filing many college applications and only begin a conversation as to whether they can afford the school after an acceptance letter arrives in the mailbox.

To cut college costs, a more pro-active approach to college admission and financing is necessary. Families should have in-person ( or electronic) conversations with financial aid staff to get an estimate of Expected Family Contribution. At the same time they should also get an estimate of what the family can expect in federal, state and school funding. There are many colleges and universities meeting with parents and students in the evening or on the week-end to provide early estimates of financial costs and expected funds.

Some schools may be eliminated after this information is calculated. Other schools may stay on the college list as a result of the information.

Given the political climate in Washington, does anyone really believe, as Mr. Cohen suggests, that Congress and the President will act quickly to reduce the EFC by 75%?

The best way for families to control college costs is to take control, by getting good information early in the application cycle, of their ability to afford, or not afford, each of the schools on their college list.