An Affordable Option for Low-Income Students to Obtain a High-Quality Degree

Berea College LogoThere is a college in the US unlike any other.

  • A college that offers full tuition scholarships to all admitted students and admits only students who lack the means to contribute at all to tuition.
  • A college that offers a high-quality liberal arts program as well as majors with vocational/professional character including nursing, education, business, agriculture, sustainability and agriculture.
  • A residential college with an attractive campus, well-equipped facilities, a faculty active in research and scholarship, a staff that contributes to the educational enterprise through supervision of students in the work program, international programs, and vibrant extra-curriculars including inter-collegiate athletics, lectures by distinguished visitors, many events in the performing arts and community celebrations of our distinctive character.
  • A college that not only admits students, but hires each and every one into work positions that help support efficient campus operations and provide valuable work experience.
  • A college that was founded before the Civil War and was the first interracial and coeducational school in the South; still with a diverse and interesting student body, faculty and staff, including substantial numbers of international students and a broad mixture of domestic students.
  • A college that accentuates the celebration of its regional association. It is located in the city of Berea in the state of Kentucky, near Lexington, and does its utmost to provide an educational opportunity to students living in Appalachia as well as other services to distressed communities in that part of the country.
  • A college that through that commitment offers opportunities to all its students to learn through the offering of service to those in need.
  • A college that has put a high emphasis on sustainability of its operations—we operate the first LEED certified hotel in Kentucky, have built one of the only platinum-level LEED certified residence halls in the country, and are renovating all of our buildings to reduce substantially reduce our carbon footprint—and also offers living and learning experiences in Sustainability and Environmental Studies.
  • A college, that because of its compelling mission and model, is supported by an array of friends, foundations and alumni so that its unique financial model remains robust and sustainable, and so that it enjoys a triple-A bond rating.
  • A college that leads the way in many areas of national recognition including Kiplingers, the Washington Monthly, and other rating services. The U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center’s report that shows Berea has the lowest tuition and fees in the nation. The national average for private, four-year not-for-profit colleges for tuition and fees is $22,786. Berea’s is $910.

This college has many successful graduates in nearly every profession and career imaginable, including entrepreneurs in business, public servants in politics, professors and academic leaders, preachers, teachers, nurses, farmers and foresters. A short list of distinguished graduates might include:

In conclusion, one might rightly ask why there is not a Berea College in every region of the country? That seems to us a very good question.

This post was provided by Lyle Roelofs, President of Berea College, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on May 10th, 2014.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

It’s Never Too Early! Start Creating Your Financial Future Now!

Erasing Debt on a ChalkboardI am the ultimate warning to ANY college student or college graduate!

The big news story over the past few years has been about the student loan debt crisis and how so many college students are graduating in the red.

Well, I was not one of those students, because I was fortunate enough to graduate from college DEBT FREE with $10,000 in the bank! Most college students would look at me as the “one who made it!”, but they would have to understand that life doesn’t end at college graduation, but it is actually just starting!

Life started happening to me fast and not long after graduation I married my high school sweetheart. Shortly after we said “I do” I found out that he had $25,000 in student loan debt for just one year of college!

This number took my breath away because the entire time that we were in college I thought he was there on a basketball scholarship, but come to find out that the basketball coach convinced his parents to pay for the first year and that his scholarship would pick up the next three. There was one problem with that plan, the college cost $25K+ a year!

We were already married so I told him that was “his” student loan which meant “his” money needed to pay the bill each month. We had already been married a month so it was time to build us a house! Not just any house, but I built us a house that was bigger than both of our parent’s homes combined.

I had fallen quickly into the microwave generation where I had to have everything my parents had right now! I convinced myself and my new husband that it made sense for us to move out of our $750 a month apartment with all utilities into a $1500 a month home where will pay ALL the utilities and trash pick-up!

We moved into the house and within the first year my husband’s car began to need repairs. Since we are part of the microwave generation, instead of getting it fixed, we traded it in for a brand new $23,000 Chrysler 300!

As we were driving our brand new car off the lot I let my husband know again that it was “his” car which meant “his” money would pay for it! I still had not grasp what the preacher meant when he said “now you are one”, because that also meant “OUR” debt.

So to recap I graduated college debt free with $10,000 in the bank and within a few years I was more than $48K in the hole! I’m not going to lie I would have kept going further into debt because as long as the bills were being paid I thought we were fine.

We were not fine, life changed quickly and I was laid off from my job. Now I was $48K in debt, income cut in half, and we had a one year old at home! That’s when we woke up and took the necessary steps to get out of that debt in 2 1/2 years!

I now show college students all over the country those same steps and principles so that they can avoid the debt nightmare that I found myself in!

This post was provided by Ja’Net Adams, a Professional Speaker at DreamGirl, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College,” on May 3rd 2014.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: Images Money

Where to Save for College? Part 2

Putting money in a piggy bank529 Plan, Stocks , Mutual Funds, UTMA, UGMA, Coverdell, Roth IRA, Cash Value Life Insurance… How do you decide which savings plan or combination of plans are right for you?

There are many components that should be considered in the decision of where to save your valuable college funds. In “Where to Save For College? Part 1”, we discussed how to calculate how much you’ll need to save and the basic (yet key) factors to keep in mind when taking into account different college savings plans.

Most commonly, I hear parents worried about taxation when deciding on their specific savings strategy. Taxation can be a big deal in a good way and a bad way. As an example, 529 Plans have the tax advantage that earnings are not taxed if the money is withdrawn for a qualified education expense. That’s the good taxation. The bad taxation arises if you need some of that money for a non-qualified education expense or if your student decides that higher education is not for them. In either case, you’d have to pay the tax plus a 10% penalty to get access to the money.

Another frequently discussed feature is whether the college money should be in the parent’s name or the child’s name (UGMA or UTMA). The tax decision will depend on the child versus parent’s tax rate, when the money will be accessed and the kiddie tax rules. The other central feature that parents sometimes forget is access to that money. It is essentially the child’s asset and they gain control of it at age 18.

The Roth IRA’s taxation rules allow money to be taxed when earned, but not taxed during accumulation or withdrawal (subject to some limitations). Roth IRA limits contributions and these limits are dictated by family earned income as well as IRS rules (only $5000 per year for an adult under 50).

One lesser known savings vehicle is to save money is cash value in a permanent life insurance policy.  Savings will accumulate tax deferred and, if the policy is designed correctly, are available to being spent… tax-free!  Contributions can be high and money from the cash value in the policy can be accessed for any need (not only college).

When it comes to college savings and funding, a chief element for many familiesmay be whether the savings are visible or invisible to the financial aid calculation. Every family should assess whether it’s possible that they may qualify for need based financial aid, and if they do, then the financial aid visibility becomes all-important.

To give you a clear visual, the chart below compares different savings plans and the possible benefits of each.

Possible Benefits
Guaranteed Growth Tax Deferred Accumulation Tax Free Use for College High Contribution Limits Investment Choices Transferable (beneficiary) No Income Ceiling for Contribution Access to Money Financial Aid Invisible
529 Plans NO YES YES YES Some Limitations YES YES NO NO
Coverdell NO YES YES NO Some Limitations YES YES NO NO
UTMA / UGMA NO NO NO YES YES NO YES NO NO
Stock / Mutual Funds NO NO NO YES YES YES YES YES NO
ROTH IRA NO YES YES NO YES YES NO Some Limitations YES
Permanent Life Insurance YES YES YES YES Some Limitations YES YES YES YES

When we work with a family to design their college savings plan, it typically will include a combination of these different plans. This allows a family to take advantage of the benefits of each, but lessen the disadvantages. Give us a call to help design your unique college savings plan.

Listen to the April 26th College Smart Radio show to understand the pros and cons of different savings plans, so you can determine which savings plan or combination of savings plans will integrate best with your family’s needs.

This post highlights information discussed during our College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Cost of College” April 26th broadcast where Beatrice Schultz and Mark Guthrie discussed the pros and cons of different college savings plans.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Tax advice is not offered by Beatrice Schultz or Westface College Planning. Please consult your tax professional for additional guidance regarding tax related matters.

Photo Credit: Images Money

Where to Save for College? Part 1

Broken Piggy BankWhether you have dreams of sending your newborn child to Harvard, UC Berkeley or San Diego State, you have a lot of savings ahead of you if you plan to foot part of the bill.

You need to come up with a savings plan EARLY – and stick with it for many, many years.

 

Various types of savings plans exist. In fact there are a few specific ones that are commonly adopted by parents to save for college.  Those include:

  • Traditional investment savings accounts.
  • UGMA (uniform guest to a minor’s accounts in their name).
  • UTMA (uniform transfer to a minor’s account in their name).
  • 529 College Savings Plan.
  • Coverdell Education IRAs
  • US Savings Bonds.

But before deciding where to save, the first question most parents ask is “How much do I need to save?”

As an example, let’s calculate how much you need to save for your newborn to afford 4 years at a UC. Today, a UC will run you about $32,000 per year or $130,000 for four years. Tuition cost as well as room and board continually rises about 4-8% per year.  If we assume a 5% inflation, these parents will be faced with a $300,000 to $350,000 college bill when their child reaches 18 years old.

These parents of a newborn would want to stash away $1,000 per month, equaling $12,000 a year (assuming an average 4.5% rate of return over 18 years) to accumulate ~$320,000 to fund that one child’s college education. Wow – that’s a lot of savings and may be overwhelming for many new parents to consider!

So now that we know how much we need to save, the next question is how and where should these funds be saved for the next 18 years?

There are 4 key components that should be considered in the decision of where to save these college funds. Those 4 factors are the savings plan, the investment strategy, having access to your money and the spending plan.

  1. Savings Plan
    1. Should be easy – auto withdrawal.
    2. Flexibility.
    3. Contribution limits.
    4. Outside help – choose a convenient way for family to help.
  2. Investment strategy
    1. Choose your risk and expected return.
    2. How will taxation impact our rate of return (tax now, tax every year, tax later)?
  3. Access to the money
    1. Would you like access to this money during the saving period?
    2. Access if you have an emergency.
    3. Access for a great investment opportunity.
  4. Spending Plan
    1. Spending Plan
      1. Flexibility. Timing.
      2. Do you want to have all your money in a plan that must be used for college funding?

When it comes to college savings and funding, a vital 5th component may be whether the savings are visible or invisible to the financial aid calculation.  Every family should assess whether it is possible that they may qualify for need based financial aid, and if they do, then the 5th component becomes all-important.

Listen to the April 19th College Smart Radio show to start to run the numbers of how much to save and why these 4 or 5 components should be serious considerations for your savings plan.  Listen in to next week’s show to understand the pros and cons of different savings plans, so you can determine which single plan or combination of plans is right for your family.

This post highlights essential information pulled from our College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Cost of College” April 19th broadcast where Beatrice Schultz and Mark Guthrie discussed the factors of where to save for your child’s college fund.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: Images of Money

Secrets for Cutting the Cost of College

Bellevue University LogoIf you are thinking about returning to school the issue of finances has likely come up. You’ll hear a lot about affordability and the cost of school interchanged, but affordability is different than cost. Think of it this way: cost is just the baseline; affordability can be considered how you’re going to manage that cost. In order to best figure the true cost, you must get a clear picture of all the expenses, and look for ways to reduce them when possible.

 

Take a look at the following seven factors when conducting your research:

1. Cost per credit hour based on the academic calendar. Don’t just pay attention to the cost per credit hour – this can be different due to variations in academic calendars, leading to extra fees and valuable time spent. There are two factors to consider here. What is the baseline cost per credits and how are credits figured? Make sure you look at all the factors involved when you determine affordability.

2. Length of program. How long will it take you to complete your degree? Are you starting brand new, do you have some credits? What is the pace of the program? When you know how many credits you need, that can help you figure cost based on how many credits are included in tuition, or if you are paying per class.

3. Transfer credits. If you have previously earned credits how will they transfer in? Are you able to save time and money if you get credit towards graduation for previous coursework? When credits don’t transfer, you could be spending more to retake classes.

4. Books and supplies. For first time students the average cost of books and supplies was more than $1000, according to The National Center for Educations Statistics. Books can get expensive, but are required. Take advantage of shopping strategically to try to land used books, renting textbooks or selling back books when possible, and research how other savings opportunities can be found. Does your school offer text book grants or scholarships to alleviate the burden of this expense?

5. Fees. Get a comprehensive list of all fees that you are required to pay as a student. Are there student fees, semester fees, lab fees, parking fees, etc.? Determine how fees are figured in. Are they included in tuition, are they separate, how often do you pay them?

6. Housing and transportation. Once you have figured out the cost of credits and fees to complete your program, explore this sometimes costly expense. Will you be living on campus? How much will you be spending commuting to campus? What is the value in the convenience of being on campus? Is online an option for you?

7. Other ways to earn credits. Can you test out of classes to earn credits? For example if you can take a CLEP or DSST test in place of a class you could save money on the cost per credit hour as well as the cost of books. According to collegeboard.org, CLEP tests are accepted by over 2,900 colleges and Universities, so explore if the school you are considering accepts them, and work with an advisor to see how they would fit your needs. Also ask how corporate and military training can count towards your degree plan.

College can be expensive, but planning and research can ease the burden without sacrificing the integrity of earning a respectable, accredited degree. Utilizing previous credits, and finding a school that works on your timeline to help you make the most of your funds can reduce costs and make college more affordable.

This post was provided by Dr. Mary Hawkins, President of Bellevue University, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College,” on April 12th, 2014.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

 

Looking For Great College Bargains

Sale Stickers

Excuse me if this sounds ridiculously elementary, but here goes:

One way to cut your college costs is to look for schools with lower sticker prices.

My nephew Matt attends Westminster College in Fulton Mo, a liberal arts college, where the tuition and room/board is $30,490. Ninety eight percent of the students at Westminster don’t pay full price. The average merit scholarship is $11,500 and the average need-based award is nearly $16,000.

Matt, who is a sophomore, is thriving at Westminster where he has made friends, enjoys small classes and benefits from attentive professors.

My son Ben, a senior, is having an equally great experience at Beloit College, where the price tag is higher.

Comparing Prices

The tuition and room/board at Beloit College is $48,506. The average merit award is $17,600 and the average need-based award is $25,000.

The total price for someone, who qualified for a merit scholarships from Westminster, would be $18,990 versus $30,914 for a Beloit student who snagged a scholarship.

Is Beloit worth the extra $11,924?

And what about the schools, particularly on the coasts that cost an additional $10,000 to $15,000 more than Beloit?

In our family, the price was not a deal breaker because my husband and I could afford to pay for Ben’s No. 1 school. But I would suggest that the education students receive at Westminister is going to be quite comparable to Beloit’s.US news books

I’d argue that a big reason for the price differential is the college rankings. Beloit is ranked as the 59th best liberal arts college and Westminster is ranked as No. 146th.

Families looking for bargains are more likely to find them if they search lower in the rankings. And, just as importantly, look outside cities and especially those on the coasts where schools can charge a premium.

Sorting Schools by Price

Today I want to share with you a new helpful tool that The Chronicle of Higher Education has rolled out that will allow you to sort through 3,000 schools by price, as well as by price for schools in each state. Play around with this tool and should find some more affordable hidden gems. (You won’t be able to access the tool without a subscription, but here is a PDF of the latest prices for schools broken down by state.)

To demonstrate what you can find, I checked prices in Ohio which has a large number of private institutions that are competing for students in a state with declining high school students.

I created a list of private schools based on price and here is a screenshot of the most expensive private schools in Ohio:

ohio 1

When I looked more closely at the list, I was surprised to discover that price and rankings were highly correlated!

Liberal Arts Colleges

First, let’s take a look at the Ohio schools on the list that are in the National Liberal Arts College category. Their rank by cost correlates exactly with their U.S. News ranking:

  1. Oberlin College  25 (U.S. News ranking)
  2. Kenyon College 32
  3. Denison University 50
  4. College of Wooster 65
  5. Ohio Wesleyan U. 100
  6. Wittenburg U. 123
  7. Hiram College 156

National Universities

This trend also held for the two Ohio schools on the screenshot that are ranked in U.S. News’ National University category:

  1. Case Western Reserve University 37
  2. University of Dayton 112

Regional Universities – Midwest

The trend doesn’t hold for the schools in the Midwestern regional category, but I suspect that could be because people pay less attention to the rankings in this category. The two premiere categories for U.S. News are the national university and liberal arts categories.

  • John Carroll University 7
  • Xavier University 4
  • Capital University 35
  • Marietta College 4
  • Otterbein University 17

Looking for Good Buys

I’m not going to get into a discussion of rankings here, but I’ve discussed in my book and my college blog why U.S. News’ college rankings are horribly flawed and even destructive. And yet my little exercise would suggest that we are often paying for schools based on these rankings!

There are wonderful education opportunities at many schools regardless of what U.S. News might think of a school. Here are just two examples:

Marietta College has an impressive program for petroleum engineers – the only liberal arts college that offers this – that enjoys an awesome placement rate. Baldwin Wallace University, an Ohio school that didn’t make my screenshot (its tuition is just $27,840 before aid or scholarships) enjoys 100% placement for its highly regarded music therapy programs.

There are many hidden gems out there and if you want to cut the price of college, I’d start looking for them.

(Note: I have discovered that if you don’t have a Chronicle of Higher Education subscription, you can’t access the tool that I discuss in this post. I did receive permission from The Chronicle this afternoon to share this PDF of the prices of individual colleges that are broken down by price.  Lynn O.)

This post was originally featured on the website of Lynn O’Shaughnessy, College Expert, Author & Consultant, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on March 29th, 2014.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

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.

Information:

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