Before College: Check Out Free Tuition Programs When Considering Colleges

One of the best ways to make college more affordable is to reduce tuition and fees.
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The latest available data show that, in 2017-18, the average tuition and fees charged to full-time undergraduates were:

  • $3,570 at community colleges;
  • $9,970 at in-state, public, 4-year colleges;
  • $25,620 at out-of-state, public, 4-year colleges; and
  • $34,740 at private, 4-year colleges.

But elected officials, candidates for public office and many colleges are pushing a new trend in American higher education — free tuition. Check for this as you consider applying to various postsecondary schools.

Some free tuition programs have been well-covered by the media. For example, New York’s Excelsior Grant, which offers in-state undergraduates tuition-free attendance at any school in the State University of New York and City University of New York systems. Another well-publicized state initiative is Tennessee’s Tuition Promise and Reconnect Programs. They cover full tuition at all of that state’s community colleges and technical institutes.

Rice University has an institutional plan that recently gained national attention. Rice’s tuition exceeds $40,000 a year, so it’s long offered generous scholarships. But beginning next academic year, it’s enlarging its Rice Investment Program to cover full tuition for students from even upper middle-class households.

Likewise, The University of Texas at Austin* has expanded funding for its Texas Advance Commitment to fully cover tuition for low-income undergraduates and partially cover it for the upper middle-class.

IMG_5228Across the country, other colleges are offering free tuition programs at least somewhat similar to those offered by Rice and in Austin. Be sure to look for such programs at any school you’re considering.

Most of these programs won’t actually eliminate tuition. Instead, they guarantee grants and scholarships (gift aid) sufficient to cover 100% of the tuition, and sometimes required fees, billed to students. These are usually “last dollar” awards — that is, they fill gaps remaining after federal and private gift aid is subtracted from tuition bills.

Certain other characteristics are common to these programs. Some, but not all, require students to:

  • Work while attending classes, fulfill post-graduate service requirements, or sign income-share agreements under which they pledge part of their post-graduate earnings to their institutions;
  • Have family incomes below certain thresholds, or have financial need, so the FAFSA is typically required;
  • Be residents of the states in which their colleges are located;
  • Be U.S. citizens or permanent residents;
  • Enroll full-time; and/or
  • Attend summer school or other specified academic terms.

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To find a map of the United States through which you can link to information on dozens of free tuition programs, go to the College Promise website. College Promise is an initiative of Civic Nation, to which this website is attributable.

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A word of warning . . . don’t let free tuition be the only thing you consider about colleges. It’s also essential to achieve student-institutional fit because, ultimately, the most important thing is to succeed in college!

* Note: The author is an alumnus and prior employee of The University of Texas at Austin, but College Affordability Solutions does not necessarily endorse or recommend it or any other institution cited in this article.

Contact College Affordability Solutions if you’re looking for strategies to help keep postsecondary learning affordable.

Before College: Use Grades K-8 to Identify General Career Directions

Cheryl and Mike have two young children — Lucas, a 9-year old third-grader, and Olivia, a 5-year old kindergartener. They want both to go to college.

They’ve already started 529 plans, but what else can they do to make postsecondary learning more affordable for their son and daughter?

One thing is to help Lucas and Olivia each begin to determine a general career IMG_4769direction.

At first this might not appear to have anything to do with college affordability. But it does.

Early identification of general career directions — broad sets of vocations in which they’ll  do things they enjoy, are passionate about, and are good at — will eventually make college less costly for Lucas and Olivia by:

  • Cutting the chances of them joining the 80% of college students who change majors, some two or three times; and
  • Making them less likely to be among the 30% of students who transfer from one institution to another.

Changing majors and transferring generates extra costs for extra courses and academic terms. They also result in students’ forfeiting scholarships that are major and institution-specific.

So how to approach this? Here are some, but not necessarily all, of the steps Cheryl and Mike can take during grades K-8:

  • Consult with Lucas and Olivia’s teachers every year. Do their grades reflect IMG_4773their actual strengths and weaknesses? What traits emerge as they interact others? As they work alone? What do their teachers consider possible career paths for them based on what they’ve observed, and why?
  • Watch Lucas and Olivia while they’re out of school, and talk with them about what they observe. For example, “Lucas, you seem to enjoy reading about cars and how they work. Would you like to look under our car’s hood?” or “Olivia, I notice you made a very creative list for the scavenger hunt! Was that fun?”
  • While young, Lucas and Olivia probably know only about occupations to whichIMG_4771 they’re routinely exposed — e.g. dentists, doctors, teachers, and whatever Cheryl and Mike do. So begin exposing them to children’s books about other vocations, and have friends and neighbors tell them about what they do. Note what does and doesn’t interest them.
  • Spend time with Lucas and Olivia on USA.gov’s Research Career Fields page, an official U.S. government portal with videos and links to descriptions of different occupations.
  • Avoid steering Lucas and Olivia toward occupations to fulfill their own hopes and ambitions. Postsecondary education is full of unhappy, unmotivated, and underperforming students whose parents pressured them into certain majors.

Deciding on careers is a multi-step process. Grades K-8 are the time to build career awareness and explore options. Later on, in high school, comes the time for narrowing down to specific occupations and college majors.

Looking for ways to help keep the cost of high-quality postsecondary education reasonable? Contact College Affordability Solutions for free help!

Before and During College: Fast Food Jobs Can Generate Thousands for College

Labor Day week seems like a good time to talk about where you might want to work as a student . . .

About 40% of high school students and 60% of college students hold jobs. Those who work 15 or less hours per week average better grades and higher graduation rates than non-working students — all while building their resumes, becoming better time managers, and reducing their need for college loans.

There are many part-time jobs out there, but often those in fast food restaurants are IMG_4649particularly well-suited for students.

True, flipping burgers isn’t glamorous, and fast food’s median hourly wage of $8.29 is low. Nevertheless, its frontline jobs require little or no experience. They often have flexible work schedules, too.

And now, in an effort to recruit and retain good employees, some fast food companies are offering student workers benefit plans that provide big bucks for college.

Here are some examples of these plans:

• Chick-fil-A: Offers 2 scholarships. One, based on financial need, awards $25,000. The other, for $2,500, is tied to community service. Both require strong GPAs, management recommendations, and that employee applicants be undergraduates or planning to begin undergraduate studies within a year.

• Chipolte: Reimburses employees $5,250 per year for courses completed at any accredited postsecondary school, including vocational-technical schools. Eligibility begins after one year of hourly employment.

• Kentucky Fried Chicken: REACH Education Grants pay $2,000 – $3,000 in tuition at IMG_46502 and 4-year colleges. Eligibility begins after 6 months with KFC.

• McDonald’s: Qualified crew members can get $2,500 a year in tuition assistance under McDonald’s Archways to Opportunity program. Eligibility starts after 90 days as a crew member working shifts of at least 15 hours per week.

• Pizza Hut: After working 60 days, hourly employees — and their families — qualify for the Unboxed EDU program’s tuition discounts of up to 51% for undergraduate and graduate studies in Excelsior College’s online classes.

• Starbucks: Provides a 100% tuition discount in Arizona State University’s online bachelor’s degree program. Eligibility begins immediately upon employment.

• Taco Bell: Offers 5% – 20% tuition discounts for online bachelor’s or master’s classes offered by a small network of universities. U.S. resident employees aged 16 to 25 may also apply for Live Mas Scholarships provided they’re currently enrolled in accredited postsecondary schools.

Not all fast food chains offer such generous educational benefits. And some don’t IMG_4651offer these benefits at all. For example, the Arby’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway, and Wendy’s recruiting websites mention no such programs.

But postsecondary benefit programs can really help make your education more affordable. So when you seek employment, consider fast food jobs, and always ask any potential employer for details on its employees education benefits.

Looking for other strategies to reduce the cost of a quality postsecondary degree or certificate? Contact College Affordability Solutions for free help!

Before and During College: The Key Difference Between Subsidized and Unsubsidized Student Loans

Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans. If you’re an undergraduate IMG_4578borrowing for college, you’ve probably borrowed both. What’s the difference? And what’s this mean for how you should handle them?

The most important ways Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans vary are:

•   Interest charges: No interest is charged on Subsidized loans while you’re enrolled at least half-time, during the six-month grace period you get when you stop being
IMG_4579enrolled half-time, and whenever your loan payments are postponed under federally-approved deferments.

Unsubsidized loan interest starts being charged the day those funds get disbursed — i.e. used to pay your tuition, given to you, or sent to your bank account, whatever comes first. This interest keeps getting charged until these loans are 100% repaid.

•   Interest Capitalization: You may pay Unsubsidized interest while you’re enrolled and during your grace period, but you’re not required to pay it until your grace period ends. At that point, interest you’ve not paid gets capitalized. This means it’s added to your loan’s principal. Then you’ll pay interest on your new, larger principal amount.

Suppose you borrow $1,000 in Subsidized and $1,000 in Unsubsidized loans at the beginning of this fall semester. Your loans’ interest rates are 5.5% (the rate for these loans in academic year 2018-19). But suppose you can’t afford to make any loan payments while enrolled, nor can you afford to pay anything during your grace period.

When your grace period ends, you’ll still owe $1,000 on your Subsidized loan. But what you owe on your Unsubsidized Loan will have grown by 23.5%, to $1,235. This is your original principal amount of $1,000 plus $235 in unpaid interest that gets added to your Unsubsidized principal. By the time it’s paid in full, it’ll cost at least $2,600 to repay your fall Unsubsidized loan of $1,000.

But you may be able to minimize your Unsubsidized loan debt. Here are three ways:

•   Reduce Borrowing: You’re not required to borrow all, or any, of the loans you’re IMG_4582offered so, if you don’t need all your Unsubsidized loan, tell the financial aid office to downsize or cancel it before it’s disbursed.

•   Pay During School: Return Unsubsidized loan funds within 120 days of the day they’re disbursed. This’ll reduce your principal amount, and the government will cancel any interest and fees charged on the returned amount. Your aid office can usually help you do this.

•   Pay During Grace: Anything you pay during your grace period will reduce interest you owe. Contact your loan servicer about this.

So because Unsubsidized loan interest always gets charged, and because it’ll inflate the amount you repay, minimize Unsubsidized borrowing whenever you can, and prepay Unsubsidized interest whenever you can.

Contact College Affordability Solutions if you’re looking for strategies that’ll reduce your costs of borrowing for college.

Before and During College: Tried and True Ways to Reduce Textbook Costs

IMG_4449Textbooks. They’re vital for postsecondary learning, but expensive. This past June the University of Northwestern — St. Paul’s Dr. Tanya Grosz observed

Textbook prices have risen up to 6 times the rate of inflation. . . . And according to a 2016 study conducted with . . . 40 public colleges in Florida, the high cost of textbooks caused 66.5% of students not to take a certain course, 47.6% to take fewer courses, 37.6% to earn a poor grade, 26.1% to drop a course, and 19.8% to fail a course.

But textbook costs can be shrunk. Most colleges provide lists of required textbook titles and ISBN numbers at or before registration so you have time to save by:

Ÿ•   Shopping Around: A booklist for each class is usually available on-line. Get it, and then compare prices for electronic and physical books — new, used, rental — at various retailers. College bookstores often charge more than you’ll pay elsewhere.

Ÿ•   Going to the Library: Campus and local libraries often have textbooks you can check out. If not, contact your instructor and ask to have books required for you class placed in the campus library.

Ÿ•   Using E-Books: Textbooks may be available electronically — sometimes, but not IMG_4450always, for less than physical books — from online retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Textbooks.com, etc. You can download them onto Kindles, laptops, mobile phones, or tablets and can do searches, highlight and copy text, insert bookmarks, and make your own notes in them. But remember – rented e-books eventually go away, so buy it if you need to keep it.

Ÿ•   Accessing Open Textbooks: These are digitally accessible texts written by experts, then edited by instructors if needed. Open textbooks are particularly useful for fields of study that require few updates (e.g. mathematics). Ask at your school’s library or maybe check out OpenStax College, a nonprofit based at Rice University, which publishes open textbooks that are free online and low cost in print.

Ÿ•   Getting Used Texts: You can buy or rent used physical books for less than new books. But check their condition. Watch out for broken spines, missing pages, and pages falling out, or books with too much that’s been marked up by others.

Ÿ•   Book-Sharing: Split textbook costs with classmates, and then share. But set clear sharing-schedules, and make sure classmates can be trusted to abide by them so IMG_4453you’ll get the books when planned.

Ÿ•   Book-Trading: Another cost-cutter trading books that are no longer needed for books need in a new term’s classes. Just double check to be sure you have the edition required by your instructor.

These strategies can help cut your expenses, which can help you borrow less for postsecondary education.

Contact College Affordability Solutions for a free consultation on other ways to cut college-related expenses.

Before College: A Last-Minute Affordability Checklist

Parents, you’ll soon be taking your freshman to college. Help him check off the following so he can begin keeping things affordable even before he arrives.

[ ] Apartment or Dorm Necessities
Make sure he has that blanket, mattress topper, printer, personal toiletries, pillow, IMG_4286sheets, and other basics not supplied by management. Space will be limited so don’t take too much extra stuff. And buy what’s needed before leaving. Merchants in college towns often charge high prices.

[ ] Coordination on Shared Items
Apartments and dorm rooms can only hold so many appliances, dishes, extra furnishings, posters, TVs, and such. These can be costly. If possible, he should contact his roommate(s) to decide who’ll bring what.

[ ] Key Money Management Knowledge
Today’s students face rapidly rising costs. They take on big debts to pay those costs. They get bombarded with credit card offers. But many don’t know about things like inflation, interest, debt, and financial record keeping. Make sure he’s not one of them.

IMG_4288[ ] Spending Plan
He needs to project what’ll remain after funds available for the academic term pay tuition and required fees. This’ll show what’s left to spend for the full term. Divide by the total weeks in the term to reduce his chances of running out of money before finals.

[ ] Do What’s Needed to Receive Loans
Loan funds don’t arrive until 5-10 days after new borrowers finish certain steps required to receive them. Unfinished steps can lead to missed payment deadlines or being cash-poor early in the term. So have him double check to make sure all these steps are complete. 

[ ] Return Unnecessary Loans Funds
Some spending plans show that extra money will be available. Their freshmen can return some of what they borrow before the term ends. This’ll cut the interest they pay. Later in the term, if it turns out they need what was returned, the financial aid office can usually help them re-borrow it.

[ ] Credit Card Management
A freshman who has or will get credit cards needs to know how to handle themIMG_4290that he’s borrowing each time he uses them, the date by which his monthly payment is required to avoid high interest charges, and that he shouldn’t use them use them to splurge or spend money he doesn’t have.

[ ] Key Deadlines
By what dates must tuition and fees, room and board or rent be paid? Missed deadlines can result in late fees, other extra charges, and even eviction. They can also hurt his credit rating.

[ ] Keep Looking for Scholarships
Some scholarships from inside and outside the college are reserved for upperclassmen. He needs to pursue these through his senior year.

[ ] Graduate On-Time
Not dropping classes helps achieve on-time graduation, which limits college costs and debt.

Want more information? Contact College Affordability Solutions for a no-charge consultation.

College Affordability Solutions Topical Index

This index links to almost 90 articles. Each describes an wat to make college more affordable. Use them to learn how to do this before, during, or after college

And don’t forget! On August 15, 2018, new articles will be posted here every Wednesday.

Before College

College Finance Plan

Cost Reduction Strategies

College Costs

College Search and Selection

Credit Cards

Deadlines

Dependent and Independent Students

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

Financial Aid Application Processes

Financial Aid Offers

Grants

Money Management

Parent Borrowing

Private Student Loans

Saving and Investing for College

Scams and Rip-Offs

Scholarships

Seeking Financial Assistance

Student Loans

Tuition and Fees

Value of Postsecondary Education

Verification

During College

College Finance Plan

Cost Reduction Strategies

Credit Cards

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

Financial Aid Offers

Grants

Money Management

Off-Campus Housing

Parent Borrowing

Private Student Loans

Scams and Rip-Offs

Scholarships

Seeking Financial Assistance

Student Loans

Tax Benefits for Higher Education

Working While in College

After College

College Finance Plan

Consolidation and Refinancing

Debt Forgiveness and Cancellation

Grace Period

Missed Payment

Repayment of College Loans

Repayment Assistance

Repayment Problems

Tax Benefits for College Loan Repayment