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A FEW WAYS TO REDUCE THE HIGH COST OF A COLLEGE EDUCATION

I am in the middle of completing a series of three books that talk about saving and investing over a period of many years in order to have a secure financial future at the time of retirement. For most young folks, this tropic requires looking far into the future – a future that many cannot envision.

For most people in their late teens and early twenties, getting ready to even consider saving and investing requires them to plan for a college education or at least several years of training in a skill or trade of their choice (such as carpentry, plumbing, etc.).

The problem is that the cost of getting training or education for entry employment positions in today’s digital world can be overwhelming and is likely to leave a young person deeply in debt before they even begin their careers.

Is there a way to reduce the cost of getting a quality post-high school education that will enable our young folks to be productive and prosperous throughout their working years? I can suggest a few ideas.

Consider joining the military, even as you apply for college. Many colleges and universities provide an ROTC training program as a method of getting a “free” college education. Completion of your four-year education is followed by a certain number of years serving as an officer in one of the branches of the US Military. You will not only have your education paid for, but you will also receive a pay grade while serving our country.

Another approach is to save money by spending your first two years at a community college. The annual cost of community college is substantially less than the full tuition at major universities. In many instances, there are community colleges in the general region of most states’ public and private universities. If a student completes a two-year program at the community college with the required grade-point average, they can routinely be admitted into a state university or college. The net effect is that the first two years of study would be completed at a cost substantially less than spending all four years at the expensive university.

Of course, the most traditional way for students who cannot afford the high cost of college is to apply for scholarships or grants. The two most common categories of students who receive scholarships are students with extremely high grades from high school and student-athletes. As a condition of continuing to receive their scholarship for the entire four years, schools will often require such students continue to earn high grades each year in college and/or be able to continue to productively participate in a given sport. Realistically, the number of students who receive scholarships is a relatively small percentage of the millions of students seeking college entry.

One of the most common methods of reducing the cost of higher education is to attend the public university or college within the state in which the student resides. Tuition costs are usually more favorable for local residents over those from out-of-state. But even with those lower costs, the cost of a four-year education might still run in the six figures.

A vast number of students pursue higher education using one or more types of work-study. Simply stated, a student will maintain a part-time (or even full-time) job while taking classes toward completion of their desired field of study. Some schools are pro-active in creating work-study programs so that students with no other source of funding can attend classes and earn money doing apprentice-style learning on the job.

For some students, employer-funded college helps defray costs.  An employee who makes an impression will sometimes be eligible to take courses at an employer’s expense.  This, however, means working full-time while attending college through online or evening or weekend courses, and the student usually has to maintain a certain GPA for the employer to continue funding education.

Another form of work and learn is what I call the “partner” approach. Whether they be spouses or significant partners, one of the team can attend school and complete the desired course of study while the other person works and helps support their living costs and education expenses. Later, they reverse the process, and the previous working partner will attend college or university, and the one who has completed the education process will go to work and provide the income.

In the bigger picture, all of us who support education and job training beyond high school can get involved in encouraging greater governmental support for higher education. There is a long tradition of educating all our children up through completion of high school. In today’s complex digital and scientific world, is it too much of a leap to now extend that level of basic education a few more years to train and educate our young people for entry into our workforce?

We have already received a bit of a head start with governmental legislation creating the 529 College Savings Plan. Readers can do an online search for details of this tax-friendly approach to creating a college education fund for our children and grandchildren. A family can start contributing to such plans when children are still infants.

As a final thought, I have a word of caution. I believe you should think very carefully before pursuing the avenue of applying for a “guaranteed” student loan to attend college. In too many situations such loans appear to be “free money,” and they really are not. Yes, at first, there is generally no interest charged on these loans, but that only covers the years while a student is still in school. Upon graduation, the charging of interest begins, which will be charged on the entire amount borrowed. For example, if $200,000 was borrowed to attend a major university for four years, even at a low rate of 4% annually, the first year’s interest will add another $8,000 to your debt. If you’re only paying off the loan at the rate of $200 per month, your debt will be growing every year, not getting smaller. So, be very careful about borrowing money to attend college.

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