Before and During College: A Car on Campus Can Create Colossally Causeless Costs

IMG_8107Most colleges and universities have vast student parking lots, sometimes unpaved areas on the outskirts of campus, generally poorly patrolled and supervised. Apartments near campus may also feature parking lots or nearby on-the-street parking.

The automobiles students bring to college quickly fill such parking places. And what could be more natural? Any young person anticipating the freedom of being on his own will also look forward to the convenience that comes with having a car.

But a vehicle at school also needlessly inflates college-related costs and educational debt. Consider:

  • Parking Fees: One large university near us charges its students as much as $796 per year to park on campus. Increased borrowing to pay this fee for four years at today’s federal college loan interest rates can inflate the total amount repaid by more than $4,000.
  • Maintenance and Upkeep: Gasoline, oil changes, and other auto-related expenses add up as the academic year goes along. Such costs can be deferred, if not skipped altogether, when your student’s car stays at home.
  • Damage and Vandalism: Cars sitting on the street and in remote, under-supervised lots are more prone to damage — from hailstorms, slashed tires, frozen batteries, collisions if others carelessly reverse or cut corners too closely, etc. Sometimes your student may need to pay for a tow job to the nearest repair shop just to get his car working again.

Most campuses are either small enough to cross on foot or have shuttle bus systems that are free to their students. And the municipal transit systems in many college towns also allow students to ride free or at reduced rates.

IMG_8108Your student may ask, how will I ever get home if I don’t have my car? This may be valid. But reasonably-priced bus services and trains often run between your state’s major colleges and large metropolitan areas. And if public transportation isn’t available, your student can probably get a ride straight to your door by offering to share gasoline expenses with a fellow student.

Now if a student commutes from home or to a job at an off-campus location not served by public transportation, a car may be necessary. Otherwise, a vehicle at college is an expensive and unnecessary luxury. So counsel your student to cut his college costs by leaving those wheels at home!

College Affordability Solutions offers guidance on a wide array of strategies to keep higher education costs, and higher education borrowing, as low as possible. Email collegeafford@gmail.com or call (512) 366-5354 for such guidance.

Before College: College “Sticker Prices” Aren’t Necessarily Their Final Prices

This summer is the time for rising high school seniors to begin researching colleges they may want to attend. There’s much check out, including each school’s costs.

To get an idea of what it’ll cost to attend different colleges and universities, go to their websites and search for “Cost of Attendance 2018-19.” You might also want to use College Navigator from the National Center for Education Statistics, opening its IMG_6849“Tuition, Fees, and Estimated Student Expenses” page to track cost increases over the last four years.

Here’s an important point — 2018-19 college prices you see on websites and College Navigator are “sticker prices” and not necessarily final. Schools generally engage in “discounting” their tuition and fees and, sometimes, other student expenses.

Colleges offer discounts differently than auto dealers, although the end result is the same. Rather than reducing a student’s tuition and fees, they give him grants and especially scholarships to pay these charges. For recruiting purposes, prestigious institutional scholarship offers often impress families and help bring in students.

Public and private colleges both discount. A new study by the National Association of College and University Business Officers found that private non-profit colleges and universities provided institutional grants and scholarships to 87.9% of new freshmen and 78.5% of all undergraduates in 2016-17. Collectively, these awards discounted tuition and fees by 49.1% for freshmen and 44.2% for all undergraduates.

Why discount? One reason is increased price sensitivity by families still recovering from the recession. It’s also related to decreased numbers of traditional college-age students and increased competition from other institutions for, like all businesses, colleges must bring in customers to survive.

IMG_6850Not every student should expect grants and scholarships equal to the discounting percentages noted above. Financial need plays a role. So do the characteristics of students an institution seeks to enroll; some want higher SAT scores, or certain types of musicians, or students likely to succeed in various academic programs. Your student won’t know his actual discount rates until winter or early spring, when he receives official financial aid offers from the colleges to which he’s applied.

The important thing is this — don’t let a institution’s “sticker price” discourage your student from putting it on the list of colleges to which he’ll apply. If that price gets discounted, it may be much more affordable than he thinks.

Before College: Make Decisions Now That Will Minimize College Debt

Soon after the upcoming college commencement season you’ll begin hearing it. “Who got me into all this debt?” or “My school made me take out all those loans!”

There’s truth in this. College costs keep rising. Grants and scholarships aren’t keeping up. But two other parties also contribute to rising collegiate debt — the student and, often, his parents.

Is your student spending conservatively — e.g. buying used textbooks from an online discount bookstore, not buying all his textbooks but accessing some through the campus library’s ebook collection?

Many off-campus residences sell themselves as “high amenity” facilities. But they’re IMG_5814also high rent. Is living in a new high-rise with a rooftop pool and granite countertops really necessary? Can your student survive someplace that’s older, plainer, and less costly? Can he split rent with one or more roommates, eat out less often, put a brown bag lunch in his backpack and cook more meals at home?

Does he absolutely need an automobile at school? He’ll likely pay hundreds to put it in some remote, vandalism-prone parking lot. Instead, can he use campus shuttle buses and municipal transit lines? Can he share rides home?

Can he work part-time? Contrary to popular belief, students who work 10-14 hours per week while enrolled perform better academically than students who don’t work at all.

Parents? You probably think your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is too high. But EFC is based on a reasonable assumption — that you’ll max out your own financial 20091030family5049resources before asking your neighbors to pay for financial aid to send your student to college.

So can you downsize your vacations; maybe even turn some into “staycations?” Can you get another few years out of your car? Do you really need to hire out the house cleaning or yard work? Or can you redirect such discretionary spending to support your student?

Most colleges offer the maximum loan amounts for which students are eligible. But your student need not accept all that debt. Minimize his costs and maximize your EFC, then reject any loan amount you don’t expect to need. If you miscalculate, what you turn down can be reinstated later.

Remember, students who borrow to live like professionals while in college often live like students while paying off their debts after college! Keep this from happening to your student by downsizing or rejecting loan offers now.

College Affordability Solutions helps families identify strategies for minimizing higher education debt. Contact us at collegeafford@gmail.com or (512) 366-5354 to learn more,

Before College: May 1 is Right Around the Corner!

May 1 is just 34 days away. That’s the deadline for paying a nonrefundable enrollment deposit to hold a spot at the 4-year college your student decides to attend this fall. When it comes to affordability, there’s much to do.

(1) Award Letter: Be sure your student has his financial aid offer from each school he’s considering. If a school’s award letter hasn’t arrived yet, make sure you’ve completed verification (if the school required it), then contact the financial aid office to request one IMG_5726ASAP.

(2) Outside Aid: If you know about scholarships your student’s getting from parties outside the school, report them to the aid office right away. Not doing so will freeze financial aid once the school learns of these awards, because it’s required to determine that the aid it awarded isn’t affected by outside scholarships. Should reductions be required, schools usually cut loans, then work-study and, last, grants or scholarships.

(3) Appeal: File a financial aid appeal ASAP if it might lower your student’s Expected Family Contribution and qualify her for more need-based aid. The aid office can tell you how.

(4) Affordability Analysis: Evaluate the affordability of each school under consideration.

First, use the “Tuition, Fees, and Estimated Student Expenses” on the National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator website to calculate annual growth in the average cost of attending a school over the last four year. Multiply the school’s 2017-18 costs by this average for each of the next four years to project your student’s 4-year cost.

Now project the financial aid to be received over four years. Some institutional grants and scholarships are for one year only, so be sure to differentiate between them and 4-year IMG_5659awards. And watch out for schools that practice bait and switch. Assume federal and state grant amounts will remain constant each year. Keep your borrowing assumptions within annual federal loan limits.

Subtract your 4-year financial aid projection from your 4-year cost projection. Now the big question — can you and your student cover the remaining gap? If so, keep that school on the list for consideration. If not, it may have to be dropped.

(5) Fit: Fit is absolutely critical. If a college or major doesn’t work for your student, chances are he’ll transfer, which’ll increase the cost of his degree. So consider fit carefully.

Need help analyzing the affordability of the colleges your student is considering? Contact College Affordability Solutions by email at collegeafford@gmail.com or by phone at (512) 366-5354.

Before College: Why Begin At A Community College?

What’s your student’s higher education goal? If it’s to get a certificate or associate’s degree that’ll get him started in a trade or technical field, than he should be looking to attend a community college or public technical institute. But even it’s to earn a bachelor’s degree, your local community college may still be the place for him to start.

Why a community college or public technical institute? Because although there are many excellent private vocational schools, these schools are subject to little oversight and regulation. The result is that way too many of them are operated by con artists — people who rip students off by charging big bucks for degrees and certificates that don’t prepare them for gainful employment. Furthermore, private vocational schools often charge high rates of tuition.

Why begin at a community college if your student’s goal is a bachelor’s degree? Simple — it, too, is a much less expensive way to earn credits that’ll count toward that degree.IMG_5561

This year, the average total cost of attending a U.S. community college is $17,000 — just 69% of the $24,610 average total cost of attending a public 4-year college or university.

If your student lives at home with you while taking community college classes, he will (on average) lop another $8,060 in room and board off his costs. So now a year at community college averages just 36% the average cost of attendance at a public 4-year public institution.

Small wonder many high school counselors and state officials urge low-income and middle-class students to begin higher education at community colleges, then transfer the credits they earn there to 4-year colleges and universities. Many low and middle-income students can pay for their time at community colleges without borrowing a penny.IMG_5566

So community colleges can be one of the most cost-effective paths to a bachelor’s degree. But in considering this option, think carefully about the pitfalls that can come with attending a community college. If none of those are a problem for your student, than enrollment in local community college can be a wonderful money-saver.

NOTE:
WE’LL BE TAKING SPRING BREAK NEXT WEEK, SO OUR NEXT POST WILL BE ON MARCH 22.

College Affordability Solutions can help you conduct an affordability analysis on various paths your student may take to earn a bachelor’s degree. Contact us at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com if you need such assistance.

During College: Spring Break, Not Spring Bankruptcy

Soon it’ll be spring break, an opportunity for fun, travel, and memories. Many college students consider it a right of passage, and many families want them to enjoy it.

But spring break can be expensive. College students spend well over $1 billion on it every year. But using government loans to pay for it will, even at today’s record low interest rates, cost at least $19.78 in interest for every $100 spent.

There’s still a lot of school left after spring break. So help your spring breaker be tough-minded and disciplined about spending decisions. For example:

  • Travel: The farther away the destination, the costlier the travel — especially img_5569if it involves high March air fares. For example, one major airline’s coach fares show a mid-March round trip Denver to Cancun (2,693 miles) costing $2,333 while its airfare from Denver to San Diego (1,078 miles) is $859.
  • Lodging: The more friends your student bunks with, the lower the cost for shelter, especially if they’re splitting the cost of a short-term rental house instead of hotel rooms.
  • Food and Beverages: Renters can prepare some of their own meals instead of eating out. And caution your student not leave an open tab anywhere. It’s also important to scrutinize meal and bar bills to avoid accidental or “moocher” charges.
  • Purchases: Clothing, swimsuits, footwear, etc. — urge your student to pack it, not buy it there at inflated prices. He or she should also take that student ID because it may generate some discounts.

More and more students are also saving by skipping those stereotypical beech and ski trips. Satisfying but much less expensive activities are out there. For example:

  • Your student can get some friends together for camping or an amusement park visit.
  • img_5570Volunteering can create lifelong memories while helping make the world a better place.
  • Spoil your student with his or her own comfortable bed and favorite meals while he or she comes home to enhance career prospects through job shadowing, searching out summer internships, or applying for post-graduation employment.

Spring break can be a great time — if your student can avoid overspending that generates a self-inflicted wound leading to a ramen noodle diet until finals end.

You can contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com. 

Before College: Check Out Those Hidden Fees

When checking out the cost of colleges your student may attend, you’ll find their tuition and fee charges on their websites. But understand that these charges only include fees required of all undergraduates.

Students are also subject to other fees — sometimes labeled “discretionary” or img_5527“optional” — that can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. These are “hidden” fees because schools typically don’t include them in their published cost of attendance.

Some hidden fees aren’t really optional. For example, most schools charge for summer orientation sessions to help incoming students get familiar with campus, it’s organizations, and it’s services. But orientation is often when students get their initial academic advising and schedule their first semester classes, too, do missing it may not be advisable.

Similarly, some courses required by your student’s major may have computer fees, course fees, course materials fees, or lab fees.

Still, it’s easy to avoid other optional fees. If your student isn’t interested in intercollegiate athletics, don’t pay athletics or sports ticket fees. If your student doesn’t absolutely need a car on campus, keep it at home — you’ll be surprised how many hundred dollars in parking fees (and how much gas, maintenance, and body damage) this can save each semester.

img_5529So research hidden fees. Search the school’s website for terms such as those listed at the end of this article. Call the admissions or business office and request lists of optional fees. Inquire with others attending the school about fees that surprised them.

Maybe you can’t avoid all hidden fees. But the more you know the better you can include them when analyzing college affordability, and the better you can budget for and plan strategies to minimize them.

College Affordability Solutions can help you analyze the affordability of colleges your student is considering. Contact (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.

Sometimes Hidden College Fees

  • Academic excellence fees
  • Activities fees
  • Add or drop fees
  • Application processing fees
  • Athletic or sport ticket fees
  • Building use fees
  • Change of schedule fees
  • Chapel fees (private, church-affiliated colleges)
  • Commencement or graduation fees
  • Computer or digital media fees
  • Course fees
  • Course materials fees
  • Convenience or credit card fees
  • Digital media fees
  • Diploma fees
  • General student fees
  • Health center of health service fees
  • Health  insurance premiums
  • ID card replacement fees
  • Lab fees
  • Late registration fees
  • Late payment fees
  • Library fees
  • Legal services fees
  • Library fees
  • Intercollegiate athletics fees
  • Internet or telecommunication fees
  • Matriculation fees
  • Orientation fees
  • Parking fees
  • Recreation center fees
  • Shuttle bus fees
  • Student success fees
  • Student government fees
  • Student services fees
  • Study abroad fees
  • Transportation fees
  • Yearbook fees