Kids who want to update their parents on the meaning of “sticker shock” can walk them off the car lot and show them the price of a college education.
The average cost for four years at a state school is $89,000, including room, board and books.
A private, four-year college that includes all those trimmings and fraternity costs runs an average of $173,000.
Those numbers bring out the same kind of facial expressions parents made when they went to a Mercedes-Benz or Corvette dealer and “sticker shock” sent them back to the Pinto or Gremlin lot, where they belonged.
It’s the same with deciding a college for your child. The biggest question: How much school can we afford?
If you can afford a Mercedes-level education, have at it. Your child will have as many options as his or her SAT score will allow, but you will be attaching a siphon to your bank account and can expect long streams of money to flow from it.
If you belong on the Pinto or Gremlin lot, join the crowd. The goal here is to get a reputable degree at an affordable price. College is meant to prepare the child for a job, not to rob the parents of their last chance at financial stability.
There are plenty of options for paying for college and even opportunities to upgrade schools if your child has a good test score and grade point average. It will involve difficult decisions and work on everyone’s part.
The two easiest steps toward reducing the cost of college are applying for any and all grants – i.e. money you do not have to pay back – and spending the first two years at a community college.
The grant situation is a curious one for some people. The federal government hands out $41.2 billion in Pell grant money, based strictly on financial need. Schools, civic organizations, endowment funds and others give out another $35 billion in grants, most of them based on merit like straight-A’s, high SAT scores, and great essays.
That’s $76 billion in free money going out, but for some reason, not everyone applies for it. Some families decide ahead of time that either they make too much money or their child isn’t straight-A enough to qualify for a grant. That just makes it easier on those who do apply.
Quick tip: Apply for everything. You don’t know when or where you may qualify for a grant. If you get nothing, you’re no worse off than when you started.
The easiest way to cut costs is to spend the first two years at a community college. The two-year schools are finally getting recognition for the part they play in a college degree, though it’s a grudging recognition. Some students belittle it as “13th and 14th” grade, but if you are not financially able or just not ready for the responsibilities of leaving home, community college is a wonderful landing spot.
An associate degree from most community colleges will ensure admission to most state schools. In other words, there is little difference in spending the first two years at community college, other than the enormous financial gain.
The average cost of community colleges depend on whether you live at home (most students do) and where you live. In California, for example, it’s about $2,800 a year for tuition, fees and books to live with mom and dad. In Florida, tuition, fees and books run about $3,500, if you’re living at home.
That would be about 20 to 25 percent of the price you would pay for tuition, fees and books at a four-year school with about the same academic result.
There are plenty of other options to make college affordable, but grants and community college are two that should put it within reach of everyone, especially those still suffering sticker shock.
Bill Fay is a writer for Debt.org, focused mainly on news stories about the spending habits of families and government. He spent 21 years in the newspaper business and eight more in television and radio, dealing with college and professional sports, then seven forgettable years writing speeches and marketing materials for a government agency. Bill Fay was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College,” on June 1st, 2013. Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.