Western Undergraduate Exchange: Is Your Student Eligible for Reduced Tuition?

Map of participating WUE states.Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) operates as a non-profit facility and essentially acts as an informational hub, conveying data or “resource sharing” between educators, governors and policymakers.  They pride themselves as an organization dealing with and concentrated exclusively on higher education.

It’s centered in 15 western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

For more background information, visit the WICHE about page on their website.

The Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) is one of their primary initiatives focused on financial aid.  As a resident of one of those states, you’re eligible to receive reduced tuition of 150% at over 150 WUE participants.

Wondering if your dream school is part of this program?  A full list can be found here.  You may also use their search feature and they grouped colleges by state for your convenience.

You simply need to indicate on your admission form to the participating institution that you’d like consideration for the WUE tuition rate.  While it isn’t automatically given to all students, be sure to apply early.  A number of colleges hand out a limited amount of WUE awards.

Still unsure about something with their organization?  Any other FAQs can be found under their page called “Ask WICHE”.

For questions directly concerning the WUE, send an e-mail their way to info-sep@wiche.edu or give them a call at (303) 541-0270.

This post gives you basic information about the Western Undergraduate Exchange.  We went into greater detail on our College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” February 1st 2014 broadcast.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.  For a more detailed explanation of the WUE program, listen to our show with guest Margo Colalancia, Director of Student Exchanges at WICHE.

Photo Credit: U. of Montana

How Does Financial Aid Really Work?

11943267226_18cbe8371d_bThe staggering costs associated with attending college is enough to discourage any high school graduate or anyone who began a 4 year program, but never completed it. Tuition has increased across the country. But for the student who is willing to put a little time into finding free money to pay tuition and related costs, the effort is well worth it.

I speak from personal experience about my search for financial aid to pay for three degrees. Today, I am a Financial Aid Advisor at Albany State University, but 14 years ago, I was a Dougherty High School graduate from Albany, Georgia wondering how my dream to complete college would be funded. My mother and father constantly reinforced the importance of getting a degree for financial independence, but had little or no resources to help me after working to make ends meet for our family home. I got serious about planning my future. With their encouragement during times I needed it most coupled with determination, I secured funds to complete four degrees.

So far, I have secured an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration from Darton College, a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resources at Georgia SouthWestern State University, and a Master’s in Public Administration with a concentration in Human Resources at Albany State University. I am currently working on a second Master’s in Business Administration at Albany State University and I am set to graduate this year on December 14th.

I am also a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated and other campus organizations. I completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (better known as FAFSA) and was qualified by the Department of Education to receive financial aid such as Pell and SEOG grants, and work study to pay for the 2 year and 4 year degree. I was also awarded institutional scholarships and aid based on information I provided on the FAFSA. Tuition assistance offered through a program at my job helped pay for the completion of two master’s degrees.

I am now helping students navigate the maze of financial aid. Most times, problems arise when they file the FAFSA at the last minute. The FAFSA is available every year after January 1st. I encourage students to begin applying for aid at the beginning of the year and then load their parent’s tax information on the application filing. I always recommend that students look for scholarships in their junior year of high school to jumpstart their research.

I am truly thankful for the opportunities afforded me to further my education. I am now able to speak to students because I’ve walked in their shoes. A sense of fulfillment fills me as I watch them stroll the  stage at graduation knowing I had a hand in opening the doors to a new chapter in their life.


Denata Williams

Financial Aid Advisor  MBA, MPA

Albany State University Office of Financial Aid

Phone: (229) 430-4648

Fax: (229) 430-3936

This post was provided by Denata Williams, a financial aid advisor at Albany State University, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on January 18th, 2014.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: Simon Cunningham

Combating the Rising Expense of College Text Books with a No Cost, Efficient Search Engine

gremlin_small-0c196408ac221e18280e5eec9adb6144College is really expensive, and the prices keep going up. As if the pain isn’t bad enough, textbook prices are out of control.  In a USA Today article, textbooks prices have risen over 82% since 2002, and the trend is not slowing down. What are students and parents to do? There are several options available; renting, buying used, and if available students can buy eBook’s. The real issue here is how do students know they are getting the best deal? This is where Gremlinbooks.com comes to save the day. Gremlin searches sources on the web, and provides a clean and easy to read summary for each book searched. The service is free and only takes a few seconds to compare several options.

How We Can Help

We have done all the difficult and time-consuming work for each and every user that visits our site. All the user has to do is enter a book title, author’s name, keyword, or the book’s ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and the search results are displayed in seconds. New verses Used, Rent verses Buy, it is all there for the user to see. We have seen users save over $130 on a single book based on the campus bookstore prices. While it may not be a massive windfall, saving $100-300 on books per semester should make students and parents very happy, but the good news doesn’t stop there. Once the student is finished with the book that he/she has purchased, we can help them sell it back to make back some of what they spent. We strive to make our site as easy and clean as possible. We do not have any advertising links on our site, and it has a very “vanilla” look and feel. We are spending our money and effort on providing the best, most comprehensive search results possible, not on building a flashy website.

What We Believe

College is becoming more and more a necessity to compete nationally and globally. The National Center for Education Statistics states that there are 21.8 million collegiate students and that number is expected to grow to 24 million by 2021. As the numbers rise, so will the tuition. We want to help wherever we can. As a proud holder of an MBA, I have seen first hand how frustrating it can be to buy a Cost Management book for $197 and a few months later have the campus bookstore offer me $3 to sell it back. Several years later, I still own that book. Our goal is to empower students by providing the data and letting them make the best choice for their needs. We want the student to think beyond the campus bookstore, and to see what we can provide, for free!!

Our Story

Gremlinbooks.com is a simple story. My wife was attending nursing school to obtain her second degree. One semester her textbooks cost over $1,000, if we went the campus bookstore route. Fed up, I turned to the web to see what I could find. Several hours later, low and behold, a $400 savings. Although we had saved a decent sum of money, the time it took was unacceptable. It seemed this was a wide spread struggle and a great opportunity to help students save on their textbooks. So 4 years later, the site is up and running, saving students money on textbooks. We are expanding our source list every semester and want to stay true to our slogan “Textbooks are expensive, we can help”.




This post was provided by Rob Parrish and Craig Nowotny, co-founders of Gremlin Books, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on January 11th, 2014.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: Gremlin Books

Non-Profit versus for-Profit Colleges: Which School Is the Best Choice for Your Educational Goals and Your Bank Account?

311178_10151094541082693_499512159_nSofia University President Dr. Neal King will discuss the highs and lows surrounding non-profit education. Sofia University is a proud non-profit, western accredited university located in the heart of the Silicon Valley. Dr. King will chat with Beatrice Schultz about the importance of keeping the student’s whole person education at the forefront of the curriculum.

There are many negative stereotypes associated with non-profit schools. They are typically seen as generous and caring organizations; however, they are also seen as incompetent and not financially sound. During this show Dr. Neal King will use Sofia University as an example of how a non-profit school runs successfully, highlighting the exceptional world renowned faculty and small but mighty corporate structure.

Dr. King is a psychologist by training who completed his graduate study at UC Berkeley. Prior to joining the Sofia community, he served as president of Antioch University in Los Angeles. With extensive experience as a psychologist in private practice in Northern California, Dr. King has served in a variety of faculty and administrative positions in non-profit, public and private, for-profit and state settings.

Throughout his career, Neal has championed a vision that emphasizes collaboration, transparency, academic quality, shared governance, and open communication with the campus community.

Dr. King currently serves as president of the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP), and was a member of IAUP’s delegation to the launch of the United Nations Academic Impact Initiative in NYC and to the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE 2010 & 2011) in Doha, Qatar. He was appointed as a commissioner on the IAUP/United Nations joint Commission on Disarmament Education, Conflict Resolution and Peace. Members consist of representatives from colleges and universities from around the globe.

Dr. King is also a founding member and steering committee member of LGBTQ Presidents in Higher Education, and he serves on the executive board of California Campus Compact.

Dr Neal King, President of Sofia University, was a guest on “College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on November 30th, 2013.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: Sofia University

Drunk on Credit and a Vanishing Work Ethic

6881508144_3a4dd3c74a_bWhy does it seem so hard to teach kids about money these days?  It seems no matter what anyone does, it just doesn’t seem to be sinking in.  But, why?

A major part of the problem is that we have a financial culture that is sending mixed messages to kids.  The culture seems to scream – Buy now, pay later, and save never.

It’s becoming an annual occurrence in America to talk about raising the debt ceiling and shutting down the government because of a crushing national debt.  The country is drunk on credit!  16.7 trillion dollars in debt and continuing to rise each day.  The CBO projected in February that the government would spend $223 billion just on net interest payments this year.  Sure!  We’ll have a few more drinks… keep ’em coming!

With that toxic credit environment as a backdrop let’s talk about the other part of the problem – a vanishing work ethic among young people.

Parents aren’t perfect either.  Many parents are living beyond their means and racking up sky high debt- sending the wrong message to their kids as well.  They are saying “do as I say, not as I do.”  Credit card debt in the U.S. is weighing down on parents, with the average balance at an astounding $7,200.

By forking over money willy-nilly, not expecting contribution around the house and allowing the electronic babysitter to take over far too often, well-meaning parents are in essence setting a trap for their kids that sucks the work ethic right out of them.

If parents continue being “ok” with these dangerous trends they shouldn’t be surprised when little Johnny is living in the basement at 32, eating their food and expecting his laundry to be done for him.

I believe that the majority of parents want what’s best for their kids, deep down in their hearts.  They really do.  They just don’t have the right tools to help them.

MyJobChart.com is one of the tools that parents are now using to help combat these trends that are robbing their children of work ethic and making it really hard to obtain the money skills they need to navigate through life’s important decisions.  In just 2 1/2 years over 500,000 members have signed up for this free service.

The country seems drunk on credit and work ethic among kids is vanishing at an every increasing pace.  But there is a silver lining.  Some parents still care enough to seek out the right tools to help them in this important battle.

Visit www.myjobchart.com and read my book. My phone number is (888) 907-7121.

This post was provided by Gregg Murset, Founder and CEO of My Job Chart, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on October 12th, 2013.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: Tax Credits

What You Need to Know and Do about Paying for College: Six Essential Tips



When thinking about paying for college, parents often worry most about what they don’t know. College financial aid is a complicated topic, with an alphabet soup of acronyms and jargon. They fear making a mistake that will ruin their child’s future. Despite the complexity, there are only a few things that most families must do to secure their child’s future.

1. Start saving for college as soon as possible. Every dollar you save is about a dollar less you’ll have to borrow. It’s never too late to start saving, because it is literally cheaper to save than to borrow. Every dollar you borrow will cost about two dollars by the time you repay the debt.

2. Start searching for scholarships as soon as possible. Every dollar you win is about a dollar less you’ll have to borrow. There are many scholarships with deadlines in the fall of the senior year in high school, and several that can be won in younger grades, even in elementary school. Search for scholarships for free at web sites like www.studentscholarshipsearch.com and www.fastweb.com. Answer all of the optional questions for about twice as many matches.

Apply for every scholarship for which you are eligible. Winning a scholarship depends as much on luck as it does on skill. By applying to more scholarships, you increase your chances of winning one. Students often dislike applying for scholarships that involve lower award amounts (e.g., under $1,000) or writing essays. But these are easier to win because they are less competitive, the amounts add up, and they add lines to your resume that can help you win bigger awards. It also gets easier after your first half-dozen scholarship applications, since you will be able to reuse your essays, tailoring them to each new scholarship sponsor.

Beware of scholarship scams. If you have to pay money to get money, it’s probably a scam. Never invest more than a postage stamp to get information about scholarships or to apply for scholarships.

3. File the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year, even if you think you won’t qualify for financial aid. The FAFSA is used to apply for financial aid from the federal and state governments and all but about 250 mostly private colleges. It is also a prerequisite for low-cost federal education loans, which you can borrow even if you are wealthy. File the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1. Several states are on a first-come, first-served basis, awarding state grants until the money runs out. (California’s deadline is in early March.) Do not wait until you are admitted or have filed your federal income tax returns.

It is ok to estimate income based on W-2 and 1099 statements and/or the last pay stub of the year. You will have an opportunity to correct any errors later. You can file the FAFSA for free at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Use the IRS data retrieval tool to update your FAFSA information a week or two after you file your federal income tax return. Call the US Department of Education’s federal student aid information center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) with questions about federal student aid and filing the FAFSA.

4. Compare colleges based on the net price, the difference between the total cost of attendance (tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, etc.) and just grants (money that does not need to be repaid). This is the amount you’ll have to pay from savings, income and loans to cover college costs. It is a more accurate measure of the bottom line cost. But beware of two caveats: about half of colleges practice front-loading of grants, yielding a lower net price for freshmen than for upperclassmen, and a college’s outside scholarship policy dictates whether private scholarships are used to replace loans (yielding a lower net price) or the college’s own grants (no change). Relying on the net price will help you make a more informed decision about the tradeoffs between college affordability and other considerations, such as college quality and reputation.

5. Borrow as little as possible. You can economize on college costs by enrolling in a less expensive college, such as an in-state public college or a college with a generous “no loans” financial aid policy. But tuition represents only about half of college costs. Students can also save by buying used textbooks (or selling the textbooks back to the bookstore at the end of the term), living at home with their parents, minimizing trips home from school and economizing on everyday expenses. For example, students don’t like the cafeteria food and so tend to eat out a lot. But a $10 pizza a week will cost you about $2,000 over the course of a four-year college career. If you pay for that pizza with student loan money, it will cost you about $4,000 by the time you repay the debt. So live like a student while you’re in school, so you don’t have to live like a student after you graduate.

Keep your debt in sync with your income. A good rule of thumb is that total student loan debt at graduation should be less than your annual starting salary, and ideally a lot less. If total debt is less than annual income, you will be able to repay your loans in ten years or less. Otherwise you’ll struggle to make your monthly loan payments. Parents should borrow no more for all their children than they can afford to repay in ten years or by retirement, whichever comes first.

As an alternative to student loan debt, consider a tuition installment plan. These spread out the costs over 9-12 equal monthly installments. Tuition installment plans don’t charge interest, but do have up-front fees that are typically less than $100. They are a good way of avoiding long-term debt.

If you must borrow, borrow federal first. Federal student loans are cheaper, more available and have better repayment terms than private student loans. Federal student loans have low fixed rates, while private student loans tend to offer variable rates. Variable rates may initially have lower rates, but those interest rates have nowhere to go but up. Federal student loans also offer income-based repayment and public service loan forgiveness, while private student loans do not.

6. Don’t forget about the education tax benefits, such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), because these are claimed when you file your federal income tax return instead of when you pay the college bill. These tax credits give you up to $2,500 back based on amounts you paid for tuition and textbooks.

This post was provided by Mark Kantrowitz, the Senior Vice President and Publisher of Edvisors.com, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on October 5th, 2013.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: Edvisors

Find Your Fit 2 Flourish in Life

LEAPNEWParents left paying off their children’s’ college debt while the student is a basement dweller in their childhood home.  Empty nesters left with empty retirement accounts after paying for college. Credit card debt extended to its limit.  Why? These families focused on the 4 years instead of the 40.

The Four (or Five or Six) Years

Most families go about college selection focused on just that – college.  By the junior year, the student is constantly pelted with the question, “Where are you going to college?” Finally in the spring of the senior year, they are able to answer that first question which is immediately followed by the next, “What’s your major?”

The grand experiment of trying on different majors for size in the first year or two of college is an expensive one. The result is often extending college to a 5th or even 6th year as only 36% of students who start college finish in 4 years.  Colleges love this additional revenue stream; parents’ savings does not. Keep in mind the average student graduates with approximately $25,000 in school loans.

Experimenting can also be problematic if a student settles into a major that can be difficult to transfer into.  Among these majors are engineering, architecture, nursing and some business schools.  If you can’t get into your desired major, your options are now to settle or try to transfer to a different university. Neither are options that leave the student feeling happy.

How Did We Get Here

Why do parents make such a great financial sacrifice to their own peril? How do parents allow their kids to get into such a jam?

I’m a parent of three, and if you ask most parents what they want for their children, they just want them to be HAPPY.  I’ll call it FLOURISH. Parents are willing to sacrifice to the point of pain for themselves to attempt to provide happiness to their children.  It’s innate.

Focus on the Forty+ Years

LEAP’s Fit 2 Flourish Coaching turns college selection on its head. Instead of answering that initial question first, we look out to the 40+ years the student will work and aim to find potential best-fit careers based on their wiring as scientifically measured by the Birkman Personality Assessment.

By starting out at the best-fit career options, students then identify the single or often times multiple majors that feed to this career then they can ultimately back into colleges which are reputable for these majors.  Bingo! They’ve now selected their college but with much improved methodology.

By focusing first on WHO you are, a student ultimately has a better FIT so they can FLOURISH and parents have HAPPY children, empty basements and full retirement accounts.

To find more tips and techniques for college bound students, check out Mader’s blog.

This post was provided by Lisa Mader, the president of LEAP (Learning Enrichment and Assistance Program), who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on September 14th, 2013.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Pay Less for College by Maximizing your Tax Savings

income tax

Although paying for college is expensive, tax breaks are available for university students.

Getting a top-rate education in this country is extremely expensive, and it’s getting worse every year. In order to afford an education, many people rely on saving, and taking advantage of scholarships and other savings programs.

However, there is another way to save for education that’s not always top of mind for parents or students: tax breaks. There are several tax breaks available to make college and continuing education more affordable.  The tax savings you should be thinking about differ whether you’re planning to get an education, receiving it now, or paying for it after.

Tax Savings while Planning for College
The biggest tax saving opportunity before going to college is contributing to a College Savings Plan – called a “529 plan.”  Much like a Roth IRA for your retirement, these plans enable you to put money aside for education. This plan allows you to see your assets grow over time, and not pay any tax on the growth.

Tax Savings During College
There are three major tax breaks available while you’re receiving your education.  The best option for you will depend on your specific situation, but your options are:

Also, one special trick many people don’t know about is the opportunity for the self-employed, folks like freelance designers, real estate agents, or carpenters, to write off education expenses as a business expense if the course relates to their line of work.

Tax Savings After College
There are two big opportunities for recent graduates. They can deduct the interest payments they’ve made on their student loans, and additionally deduct the expense of moving a long distance to start a new job.

One clever strategy can be to ask your new employer to defer your signing bonus, if you’re lucky enough to get one, until the next calendar year.  This is because many tax deductions are income-tested, and that first year out of college is when you’ll be earning the lowest income for the foreseeable future.

This post was provided by Mitch Fox, a Tax Nerd and the Co-Founder of GoodApril, an online tax planning service. GoodApril offers a free “Tax Checkup” to help you identify actions you can take to reduce your taxes. You can follow Mitch on Twitter at @mitchellwfox or @goodapril.

Mitch was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College”  on July 20th, 2013.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.