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Strategies to Decrease the Cost of College #2 – COA Surprises

cost of attendance
Surprises, they can be good or bad.
Good, such as pulling a forgotten $20 out of a jacket pocket not worn over a long, long winter, an unexpected message or letter from an old friend, a thoughtful gift.
Or not so good, such as opening your tuition bill and realizing it is going to cost thousands of dollars more than you expected. How can this happen? Don’t colleges and universities advertise costs?
Yes and no.
Colleges typically advertise cost in terms of Cost of Attendance (COA). Federal financial aid guidelines define COA as:
    • Tuition & Fees
    • Room & Board
    • Books & Supplies
    • Transportation
    • Personal Expenses
Many (dare I say most) institutions are less than transparent when advertising the “true” cost of an education – typically they only market and advertise these five COA components. 
Now the rest of the story…
Smart higher education consumers need to play detective, sleuthing through brochures, web pages, letters, etc. to unearth hidden costs – to determine your “true” cost of attendance.
What are these shadowy hidden costs? From differential tuition rates – to loan origination fees and everything in between, hidden costs come in all shapes, sizes, and forms – real money out of your pocket. Let’s examine a few:
A common hidden charge is a differential (extra) tuition rate. It is fairly common for students majoring in nursing, engineering, business, computer science (to name a few), to be charged an extra fee on top of regular tuition rates – see examples below:

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Most families do not realize advertised room and board COA charges are the “average” rate a student can pay. The real cost can span thousands of dollars as evidenced by these 2018-2019 rates:

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Look at this statement from a college web site – “All students receive a laptop as part of our laptop program.” Cool! Not so fast. Dig deep enough and you find students are not receiving a laptop, they are paying for the use of one – the real cost:
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per semester.
Let’s talk disingenuous. In reviewing a financial aid award letter for a student this spring (see partial letter below), I noted the school understated their own cost of attendance (as calculated by their own Net Price Calculator) by thousands of dollars.
Note how they seem to have “forgotten” personal expenses or transportation in their “estimated” COA. “Luckily” when this was pointed out to the director of admission, this student’s award was adjusted upwards to include these real costs. 

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How about matriculation (new student) fees, course and lab fees, capital enhancement fees, tuition payment plan fees, credit card fees, excess credit charges beyond a full-time credit load, stadium fees, parking fees, health center fees – I digress… but I could go on and on and on…
Smart consumers need to shield themselves from COA surprises, by determining their “true” cost of attendance before choosing to enroll. Unearthing the “true” cost of attendance in many cases will be the difference between choosing one school over another – saving you thousands of $$ on the overall cost of your education.
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Need help finding good match colleges. Contact me. and I can work with you to shave thousand’s of $$ off a college degree.  

Jeff has spent 30+ years working in higher education as a Registrar and Director of Student/Academic Services. As an educational college planning consultant, he uses his experience and insights to save you $$$ by helping you in identify “good match” colleges to fit your academic, social and financial needs.

 

Strategies to Decrease the Cost of College #4 – Graduation Rates

 

College Graduation

What is the admit rate to Harvard? Stanford? University of Minnesota?
Many know because so much gets written and too much emphasis is placed upon how difficult it is to get into certain colleges.
When considering colleges, rarely does one ask, “What is Wossamotta U’s graduation rate?” When the ultimate end game is to graduate – I want to know how long it will take to get out.
Today it takes students on average 5.1 years to graduate with his/her four-year degree, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Thus, it is important to understand the likelihood I am paying for four, five or six years to finish a degree.
The graphic below highlights how much a degree will cost (based on Fall 2018 cost of attendance) if completing it in four, five or six years at three different schools. 

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Sadly, four in ten families have no strategy to pay for four years of college, let alone five plus – Sallie Mae 2017 – How American Pays for College. – with each year beyond four typically funded by taking on increased debt.
It is extremely important to find and enroll at a good fit school. Statistics tell us tells there is a direct correlation between choosing a “good match” school and your retention and ultimate graduation from that school – even if it takes you > four years. But, the numbers do tell us something.
Look at the percentage of students who graduate from these schools in four years:
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Compared to:
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Comparing graduation rates can yield potential cost-savings. In a surprising number of instances, your overall out of pocket costs will be lower if you graduate in four years from a “higher cost” school than six years from a school with a lower sticker price.
Just as I advocate never eliminating a school based on its sticker price if Winona State University is a good fit and your top choice do not eliminate it solely because their four-year graduation rate is lower than others.
All schools have warts and many students leave for a variety of reasons having nothing to do with the college itself, and just because the typical student doesn’t graduate in four years it does not mean you will not, however…
Be mindful of certain realities – something systematic regarding how a school offers (sequences) classes or the types of students it attracts or its student services/resources or cost of attendance, or funding mechanisms or etc., makes it more difficult to graduate in four years than other schools.  
Focus less on admit rates. Pay more attention to graduation rates when determining if a college is a good financial fit.
After all, the goal is to graduate. And in my humble opinion – in four years or less!
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Need help finding good match colleges. Contact me. and I can work with you to shave thousand’s of $$ off a college degree.  

Jeff has spent 30+ years working in higher education as a Registrar and Director of Student/Academic Services. As an educational college planning consultant, he uses his experience and insights to save you $$$ by helping you in identify “good match” colleges to fit your academic, social and financial needs.

Strategies to Decrease the Cost of College #8 – Sticker Shock

What do mattresses, new cars, and college tuition have in common?
You rarely pay full price.

Sticker Shock Tuition

When I do college planning workshops, I frequently hear – “that college is too expensive to attend”. 
Too many families mistakenly eliminate a school as soon as they see the “Sticker Price”. The result – paying more than necessary for a college education. Why?
Colleges (especially private schools) need to discount tuition from advertised prices to compete with other colleges and universities.
Many families I work with are surprised to learn in many instances a so-called “more expensive” college will cost them less out of pocket than schools with cheaper advertised prices. 
How can this be? First, you need to understand how colleges calculate a financial aid package. The primary consideration is demonstrated need. At it’s most basic this is the financial aid formula all colleges use:

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EFC is the amount of money you are expected to contribute for one academic year. It is calculated by completing the FAFSA and/or the CSS Profile (not required by every college). 
Your EFC is the same regardless of how much a school charges, thus your need varies based on the cost of attendance (COA). 

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To illustrate, let’s assume your family EFC is $5,000 and you are considering the University of Minnesota (UMTC), the University of North Dakota (UND) and St. Olaf College.
In addition to understanding how EFC is used in financial aid calculations, it is also critical to research (understand) what % of need a college historically meets.
Historically, the UMTC meets 76% of demonstrated need.
UND 64%.
St. Olaf 100%.
Why is this so important? Since your EFC is constant ($5,000), your financial aid offer from these schools will vary considerably. 

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UMTC will likely offer you $17,657 in aid. UND $10,924. St. Olaf $55,990.
In the right circumstance the “more expensive” St. Olaf will cost you less out of pocket than the “less expensive” UMTC or UND. 

 

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Will this calculation work exactly the same for every family. No!
Many factors are used to determine a financial aid award, such as how much they want your son or daughter to attend (called preferential packaging – a topic for another day). Preferential packaging determines how much “free” money they will offer in the form of scholarships and grants versus loans.
Yet, the reality in today’s admissions environment – most colleges and universities need to “compete” to enroll your son or daughter. 
Ask yourself, can Gustavus Adolphus College really attract all the students it needs to meet its enrollment goals if they charge every student $57,280 (Fall 2018 published COA) versus the UMTC which charged $28,233? 
No like, most colleges Gustavus will “discount” tuition from their published sticker price for many many students. 
Thus, it is really is not uncommon to receive a financial aid award which makes a “more expensive” college if not the less costly alternative, then comparable to a school with a low sticker price. Use this knowledge to your advantage to save $$$ on the cost of a college education. 
The best time to eliminate a school is at the end of this process after you have learned what a school is willing to offer you. Not at the beginning, when you see the advertised price!
You have choices.
Contact me today to learn how I will save you $$ on the cost of a college education.

Jeff has spent 30+ years working in higher education as a Registrar and Director of Student/Academic Services. As an educational college planning consultant, he uses his experience and insights to save you $$$ by helping you in identify “good match” colleges to fit your academic, social and financial needs.

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