College Corner

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Bringing down the cost of college

By Audrey Kahane

Years ago, on the “Cosby” show, Theo Huxtable tried to talk his parents into buying an apartment for him to live in while he attended college in New York. It seemed like a teenager’s self-serving scheme at the time, but in recent years, a number of families have done just that. With rising home prices, and the high cost of renting apartments in cities like Washington and New York, what started as a way to provide a comfortable housing alternative for a student away at school has often turned out to be a wise investment. Roommates pay rent to help cover the mortgage, and parents not only make sure their child has a nice place to live, they may be able to sell the unit for a profit at graduation. While this strategy may not work everywhere, it is one way parents have brought down the cost of college. I wouldn’t advise it for freshman year, though, as living in a residence hall is the best way to make friends, and that’s the most important task for new students.

What are some other ways to lower college costs? A number of schools offer tuition prepayment plans, where you can pay all four years of tuition at the start of freshman year and avoid annual tuition increases. With tuition at many colleges going up faster than the rate of inflation, prepaying may be an option worth considering.

For students who have long-term educational goals, a combined degree program can be economical. Clark University in Massachusetts offers a free fifth year in its accelerated degree program, so students can earn a master’s degree without having to pay more tuition. Some schools offer accelerated bachelor’s and master’s programs, where students begin medical school after three years of undergraduate work, eliminating one year of college.

Students who have taken advanced placement or community college classes while in high school may have accumulated enough credits that they’ll be able to graduate college in less than four years, saving a semester of tuition.

But perhaps the best way to bring down the cost of college is to choose a less expensive school. The University of California remains a great bargain. Even with a proposed 14 percent increase, UC students will be paying $5,684 tuition, and California State University students less than half that.

Outside California, many states have excellent public universities. Some, including the University of Michigan, at more than $25,000 tuition for out-of-state students, cost as much as private colleges. Others, like the highly rated University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, are a good buy at under $18,000. Canadian schools offer great value, with tuition in a liberal arts program at the University of British Columbia costing under $17,000.

Private schools can also be cheaper than you might think. Rice University has a substantial endowment that enables the school to keep tuition, $20,350 for next year, low compared to other elite colleges. Hendrix College in Arkansas is another bargain at less than $17,000 for tuition. You may not be familiar with Hendrix, but they offer small classes, a nurturing environment, and with 60 percent of their graduates going on to graduate or professional school, they must be doing something right.

Even colleges with higher price tags may be more affordable than they seem. While Ivy League and other highly selective colleges like Pomona and Stanford only provide need-based financial aid, other excellent schools, including the prestigious University of Chicago, offer academic scholarships to attract outstanding students. Competitive schools like Emory and Vanderbilt provide scholarships ranging from $5,000 to full tuition. USC offers more than 200 full and half-tuition scholarships. Almost a quarter of George Washington University freshmen receive merit-based awards ranging up to $20,000 a year.

These are just a few examples of the merit-based aid offered by hundreds of colleges and universities. Students have the best chance of getting merit-based aid at schools where they are at the top of the applicant pool. Scholarships are usually renewable for a total of four years, if students maintain acceptable academic performance.

While cost is a factor in choosing a college, the real bottom line has to be whether it is a good match for your child. An educational environment that enables a student to thrive and realize his or her potential is the best investment parents can make.

Audrey Kahane, MS, is a college admissions counselor in West Hills. She can be reached at 818.704.7545 or via the Internet at audreykahane@earthlink.net.