Paying for College


Graduate in Four Years

It’s shocking how few college kids graduate in eight semesters. Millions of students are now taking five or six years or more to earn their diplomas.

In the hall of shame, many California state universities possess dreadful four-year graduate rates, including San Jose State University (7.1%), California State University-Long Beach (10.9%), and San Diego State University (13.9%). Dismal rates are hardly confined to the West Coast. A tiny sampling of schools with terrible four-year rates include Kennesaw State University (8.3%), University of Hawaii at Manoa (11.5%), University of Louisville (12.6%), Georgia State University (13.7%), University of Utah (15.4%), University of Oklahoma (19.3%), and Western Michigan University (20.1%).

You can’t just blame the terrible graduation rate on academic dead enders. At some schools, particularly public universities, classes are overloaded, and some popular degree programs require kids to spend far longer in school than they ever imagined. If a child switches a major or decides to earn a double major, the time clock can also get pushed back. The cost of college will also delay graduation because many students must work full or part time to pay the tab.

When shopping for schools, inquire about a school’s four-year graduation track record. Unfortunately, the graduation rate is frequently reported as a six-year figure. As mentioned earlier, the Education Trust provides a quick way to find four-year graduation rates through its College Results Online ( Also ask schools for the average graduation rate for particular majors. Find outwhy kids experience difficulty graduating on time and how the successful ones pull it off.

The following table provides a breakdown of graduation rates from a study conducted by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute. As you’ll see, different types of institutions in the study enjoyed greater success at getting their graduates out the door in a timely fashion.

Institution Type 4-Year Grad Rate 6-Year Grad Rate
Public university 28% 58%
Private university 67% 80%
Public college 24% 47%
Nonsectarian college 56% 66%
Catholic college 46% 60%
Other Christian college 51% 61%
All institutions 36% 58%

After you’ve chosen a school, make sure you meet as soon as possible with an academic advisor. Learn what the requirements are for an intended major including the number of credits the degree program requires. Take at least 25% of those credits each year. Also enroll in the required courses as soon as possible since some of these essential classes may only be available once a year, and even worse, could be a prerequisite for other higher division classes.

If you fall behind, consider summer school at your own college or university or at a community college for general education classes. Making sure you don’t linger unnecessarily will save more than college costs. Graduation delays also keep you from earning a living!


Look for Bargains Across State Lines

If you’re eager to attend an out-of-state public school, you won’t necessarily have to pay full price. As mentioned earlier in the book, plenty of public universities will discount their out-of-state tuition to desirable kids living beyond their boundaries. The average discount from public universities, according to the College Board, was recently 14.7%.

Here’s another way to reduce your costs: Look for out-of-state schools that observe a reciprocity agreement with institutions in your state. Thanks to one of these agreements, you may pay the same price as a resident or capture a significant discount.

Why would a university in Missouri, for instance, extend a price break to a kid from Kansas? Here’s one big reason: States decided it was easier to piggyback off the offerings of nearby states than to spend the money developing certain majors on their own. The University of Kansas, for instance, operates an architecture school, but the University of Missouri does not. The University of Missouri system, however, has schools of dentistry and optometry, which KU does not.

Consequently, dentistry and optometry students from Kansas can pay resident tuition at the University of Missouri, while Missouri students can enjoy the same deal when enrolled as architecture students at KU and Kansas State University. Some states have their own reciprocity agreements, but major regional pacts also exist.

Don’t expect schools to advertise these bargains — you have to do your own research. You also can’t expect all the public schools in a state to be eligible for price discounts. Often the most sought after
state schools aren’t. Request the reciprocal deal at the same time you apply to a school.

Here are the major regional reciprocal pacts:

  • Academic Common Market ( Member states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida (graduate programs only), Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina (graduate programs only), Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas (graduate programs only), Virginia, and West Virginia.
  • Midwestern Higher Education Compact ( Member states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
  • New England Board of Higher Education ( All 78 public colleges and universities participate in the tuition discount program offered in these six states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
  • Western Undergraduate Exchange ( Member states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.


Start at a Community College

Beginning at a community college can save a bundle of money. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the average community college tuition is $2,272. The trick to starting at a community college is making sure all those credits transfer to four-year institutions later.


Head North

If you want an educational bargain, consider Canadian schools. According to the Fiske Guide to Colleges, which covers leading Canadian universities in its annual guide, the typical Canadian student was recently paying just $2,500. Of course, Americans can’t expect that price, but the cost could still be lower than out-of-state public universities and private schools.

Many competitive Canadian schools offer merit scholarships to qualified students, regardless of citizenship. You can learn more about Canadian schools by visiting the Web site of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada ( Another Canadian resource for more than 1,700 colleges and universities is


Lean on Your Kids

Even if you can afford to underwrite all four (or more) years of your child’s college career, don’t do it. Your child, despite his or her whining, will greatly benefit from paying at least part of the tab. If teenagers haven’t spent time cleaning a deep fat fryer at McDonald’s or playing Candyland for the umpteenth time at a babysitting gig, it can be difficult for them to appreciate how hard people have to work for their money.

If they enter college still thinking that money is imbued with magical properties — it just appears when needed — they could ultimately have a much tougher time dealing with the realities of the workingworld. And before that milestone, they may have more trouble buckling down at school because they don’t own a financial stake in their education.

It’s important to talk with your child long before the freshman year is looming about how much money he or she must contribute to his or her college education. You might decide that she has to pay for certain expenses, such as textbooks and living expenses. Another idea is for your child to kick in the equivalent of what she can borrow yearly through the federal Stafford loans, which are designed for students.

On many, if not most, campuses it’s easy for students to find work. According to the American Council on Education, anywhere from 70% to 80% of college students work. Holding a part-time job not only defrays costs, but it can also boost your child’s grade point average. Studies show that kids who work part time typically enjoy higher grades than those who don’t. Juggling school and work commitments is an excellent skill to develop for a future career.


Check out Nonprofit Lenders

Some nonprofit lenders, which are often state chartered, provide great deals for certain students, such as those selecting particular majors. These lenders, for instance, may shrink interest rates for students who choose public service fields or nursing in states where there is a desperate need for young people. For instance, Missouri residents who want to go into law enforcement, social work, and other public service careers could recently borrow money from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MOHELA) for an infinitesimal .5% interest rate. That’s right, a half percent. The Michigan Higher Education Student Loan Authority was recently offering engineering students in the state — residents and nonresidents — a great deal. If they met certain qualifications, engineering students could capture a 0% interest rate on their federal Stafford loans.


Leave the Car at Home

Many colleges prefer that students, particularly underclassmen, keep their cars at home. You can save a nice chunk of change by dry-docking your kid’s car. Obviously, the gas bill disappears and the maintenance costs should shrivel too. What’s more, you may be able to freeze the insurance payments until your child returns home.

Even if your son or daughter doesn’t own a car, you should still contact your insurer when he or she leaves in the fall. Insurers could slash the price of your child’s coverage or eliminate the cost entirely until he or she starts driving again. To obtain price breaks or even bill moratoriums, some insurers require that the child’s school be more than 100 miles away from home.

Admittedly, it might not be much of a consolation to a child without a car, but walking or riding a bike is a lot healthier and can help your child avoid the “freshman 15.” That’s the number of pounds new
college students are thought to gain.


Become a Residential Advisor

If your child is responsible and blessed with good social skills, he or she might want to be an RA. An RA serves as surrogate mother hen to the kids in a dormitory. RAs help settle disputes and make sure kids aren’t doing dumb things like hauling beer kegs into their dorm rooms. Colleges and universities generally reward their RAs, who typically have to be sophomores or upperclassmen, by eliminating or reducing their room and board expenses or tuition.


Collect Cheap College Credits

Taking college level Advanced Placement courses while in high school can shave a semester or more from your undergraduate career. Another alternative is getting college credits through the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP), which allows students of any age to demonstrate proficiency in college courses. More than 2,900 colleges and universities participate in the CLEP program. High school students can also obtain college credit by taking community college classes in the summer.


Buy Used Books

According to one federal study, the cost of textbooks has jumped nearly four times the rate of inflation since 1994. Expect to be gouged if you wander into your college’s bookstore and buy new textbooks. Buying used books will obviously save money. One handy resource is, which is an online price comparison shopping site that scans prices at many online bookstores. Also see whether your college offers a textbook swapping service. Other sources for used textbooks are and


Apply for Free

College expenses start adding up even before you enroll. It can cost $60 to $70 a pop just to apply to colleges. A Web site called, Free College Applications, maintains a list of many schools that offer free or reduced-price applications. You can find the site at


Check for Discounts

Ask a school whether it grants a discount for a second child who attends the school or for recommending the school to a friend who enrolled. Also inquire whether you can charge the tuition on your credit card to capture frequent flyer miles or other plastic perks.

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