College tuition has made another sharp increase in cost this fall — causing more families to rely on government aid to make their dream of higher education possible, reports the AP.
On average, in-state tuition for public schools rose a total of 7.9 percent according to the College Board’s “Trends in College Pricing.” Private non-profit colleges, which can cost ,000 or more a year, are now asking for an additional 4.5 percent this year.
Massive government subsidies and aid can help families afford higher tuitions, but even that aid can only go so far. Some families opt to take out private loans, but those tend to have high interest rates.
“Just when Americans need college the most, many are finding it increasingly difficult to afford,” said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education.
What can students and families do to help themselves afford higher education? The Survivors Club spoke with Susan Fischer, Director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Office of Student Financial Services about cost-saving tuition tips. Her 23 years of experience working with student services at the University maker her a financial aid expert — check out her advice on how to make paying for college a reality instead of a dream.
Access All Federal Aid Possible
“We are proponents of accessing all the federal aid that you can. Maximize all your federal loans before you start going down to private loans. The federal loan programs are really good,” Fischer comments.
Federal Stafford loans are a fixed-rate loan for students of higher education attending school at least half-time. Some of these student loans are subsidized which means the government pays the accrued interest while you are in school. These are the most common and one of the least expensive ways to pay for college.
The Federal Pell Grant program offers need-based aid to low income undergraduate and some graduate students and their families. Unlike a loan, these grants do not have to be paid back.
You can apply for Federal Student aid by completing the FAFSA.
For families who don’t qualify for the Pell Grant, Fischer advises they look into the available tax credits: “There’s a number of tax credits for people who are paying tuition for their kids or kids paying for themselves especially for middle class families who are not getting need-based grants,”
“Don’t over look the tax credits.”
Find information on tax credits from the College Board.
Take Basic Requirements at a Two Year School
“What some students might not realize they can do is attend a community college or technical school for two years and get their basic educational requirements like math and English at the lower cost and then transfer into the higher cost institution.”
Students who decide to take this less-traditional route need to make sure that the credits will transfer to the school they wish to get their degree from. They will also save money if they live at home for those two years.
Fischer emphasizes that this strategy will not detract from educational prestige: “People don’t care where you start; they want to know where you finish! The big deal is where you graduated from.”
Start Saving . . . Now!
Tuition prices are probably going to continue to increase in the years to come and your family might not be able to rely on government aid to pay the whole price of tuition.
“Ideally the parent started saving when the kid was born.
“If you want to save and not get into so much debt, you live tight, you have simple needs and wants.
“Save, don’t buy what you absolutely don’t need.”
The important thing is to start taking action to save as early as you can.
“The worst thing a family can do is do nothing,” Fischer emphasizes. “Whether you save 0 every month and put it in a CD, anything. Not every family has the opportunity to save the same amount in the same way.”
For students, saving might be applied through good practical budgeting techniques. “If you think of yourself as borrowing money every time your eat at a hamburger place and you multiply that out times your college career. That’s a lot of money. Packing a sandwich can be very powerful.”A Student Needs a Part Time Job
“Students should be working 15 or 20 hours a week while in school. No more than that.”
The Federal Work Study Program provides funds that are earned through part-time employment to assist students in financing the costs of post-secondary education.
“Unfortunately not everybody who wants work study can get work study – it’s based on financial need,” Fischer said. “Beyond that it’s based on the individual school to allocate out.”
If you are unable to get work study, a traditional part-time job is a great way to supplement the rising cost of tuition.
“The average student can work 15 hours a week without hurting their grades, and it helps with time management.”
Get the Student Involved in the Process
“I think the student has an obligation [to help]. When the student starts earning money have them put some of it away towards college.
“I think it is very reasonable for them to have ‘skin in the game.’ It’s not just up to Mom and Dad.”
When the student reaches high school, parents should sit down with their children and talk to them about what the student can expect for support.
“A lot of parents promise their kids they can go anywhere they want no matter what the cost.
“If you come to UW-Madison for undergrad, it is going to cost you about ,000 a year for everything. That’s a lot of money. We don’t have ,000 in financial aid to give you. I can tell you that. So you are taking an awful lot of loans or borrowing from relatives.
“It is important for parents to be honest with kids about the expense. Have them do some of the research. Be clear with your student on what they can expect for you to contribute.”
Tips for High School Students
“Take as many AP classes as you can. A lot of those, when you get admitted and if you do well on your AP exams, will count as actual college classes so you can get through faster.
“The name of the game is get in and get through fast. Don’t dawdle. Because dawdling is expensive.”
When the student is a junior in high school, they “should be looking to see what kind of scholarships are out there on free search engines,” Fischer recommends. “The deadlines are often in September or October of your senior year in high school. If you wait until you’re admitted to college in January, you’re not going to get them.”
In conclusion, Susan Fischer emphasizes that the whole family has “got to get involved. Not saving is a problem and not having your child involved in the process is a problem. Let the student have some part in the process.”
Alexander Smith is a staff writer for The Survivors Club . He lives in Portland and has previously worked with at-risk in Los Angeles.
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