Alternative Strategies for Saving on College Tuition
Mr. ToughMoneyLove is a regular critic of colleges and universities. There is lots of hard truth to be spread about the deficiencies in our system of financing higher education. First, many colleges are what one writer has called failure factories because they graduate so few of the students who attend. Second, the out of control budgets at many universities is a driving factor in the ridiculous amount of student load debt incurred by too many students.
While not retreating from any of what I have said previously about wasting money attending college, there are lots of good reasons for many students to go to college and there are some college programs that can offer a decent return your investment. By the way, I’m not interested in hearing again from those who want to tell me why college is not a monetary or career investment but a “life changing experience” where education is valued for its own sake. That statement may be true for 1% of the students. For the rest, the only things “life changing” are learning how to binge drink away from Mom and Dad and acquiring boat loads of debt. This is based on my own college experiences (attending two, teaching at a third), and listening to my sons’ college stories.
Returning now to the actual subject of this post, the standard strategies for saving money on college tuition are (a) to attend an in-state public university and (b) starting at a local community college. These are actually the best strategies. However, you do get those students who feel the need to leave the state to attend school (and their parents let them push them around) or cannot find a program that meets their interests. I have two suggestions for alternative tuition savings strategies for these students and parents.
Alternative Strategy 1: Become a barista at Starbucks. OK, this is not a serious suggestion but, sad to say, you do run into a lot of college graduates at places like Starbucks. That’s because the only thing they got out of college is that “life changing experience.” Unfortunately, that did not include any experience that an employer would value.
(Actual) Alternative Strategy 1: Use the Academic Common Market. I don’t know if this concept exists in every part of the country, but there is a consortium of public universities in sixteen states in the south and mid-south that participate. The concept is simple: If a student wants to enter a college program that is not offered in his or her home state but is offered in another participating state, that student can apply for and enter that program and be eligible for in-state tuition. In the Southern Regional Education Board Academic Common Market, there are over 1400 programs. Some are unusual, but others are reasonably mainstream, such as Petroleum Engineering, Landscape Architecture, Marine Biology, Journalism, and Forensic Science.
By the way, the Academic Common Market can also be used for graduate programs. In fact, Florida, Texas, and North Carolina participate only for graduate programs. Once again, there are some strange but also interesting graduate programs available through the common market. Examples: MBA with a real estate or health administration concentration, Gerontology, City Planning, and International Diplomacy and Commerce.
The Academic Common Market offers online college programs as well. This way, you can live in your home state, take classes online in a common market state, and pay in-state tuition. Some of the online ACM programs I found interesting were a Masters in Forensic Accounting, Master of Public Health Administration, and Masters in Nuclear Engineering.
Alternative Strategy No. 2: Secure an in-state tuition college scholarship. I mention this one because we used it. Our third son did not want to attend college in-state. Fortunately, one of the schools he was interested in (Mississippi State University) offered four years of in-state tuition to any out-of-state student who achieved a certain GPA or ACT/SAT score. Our son met both of these criteria.
What’s interesting is that the academic standards were quite reasonable. In fact, any student in our home state of Tennessee that was eligible for an in-state lottery scholarship could also have attended Mississippi State with in-state tuition. A second interesting aspect is that the in-state tuition scholarship is not need-based. (No way we would have qualified based on need.) No forms to fill out except a basic “I have good grades – may I have the money” form. Finally, Mississippi State was so eager for out-of-state students that they offered our son some scholarship money in addition to in-state tuition. All he has to do to keep the scholarships is to maintain a 3.0 GPA. Now that he is there he likes it and is enrolled in a program that is not offered at any of our in-state universities.
I know that there are other state universities that want to attract out of state students who have good academic records. I don’t know how many or where they all are, but I suggest that you look for them. If you (or your child) want to get out of state for college, then finding in-state tuition in exchange for decent high school grades is a great way to make that happen in an affordable way.
There you have it. Frugal college tuition ideas from a non-frugalist. Comments?
Photo credit: Bob Smith