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Strategies to Decrease the Cost of College #1 – The Most Expensive College?

What is the most expensive college? 

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“The one you don’t graduate from!”
It is sort of a trick question and the answer commonly elicits a chuckle from a crowd. Yet, when I ask this follow up question – “How many of you know an individual who did not graduate from the first institution they attended?” – without fail 1/2 to 3/4 of the hands shoot up. Most of us do.
Nearly 1 in 2 students do not graduate from the 1st school they attend. Maybe you know “Passive Aggressive Pete”:

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“Pete” was a young man whom I invited into my office at the University of St. Thomas. Pete a stellar high school student, was failing most of his courses. “Surely, there are resources UST can provide to assist”, I asked. Pete looked at me and candidly replied, “Nope. I’m pissing my old man’s money away”. Pete eventually revealed he didn’t want to be at St. Thomas – but didn’t have a choice – everyone in the extended family had attended UST…
UST is a fine institution. But in Pete’s case did not fit. This was his passive-aggressive way of making his point. In today’s dollars, this is an awful lot of $$ to flush away. 
Maybe you know an “Annika”? 

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Class valedictorian. Had many many colleges recruiting her, yet her parents refused to take her to visit any of them, albeit one option – The University of Minnesota – because it was close and “cheaper” than most. But, Annika didn’t want to go to school in MN – the U. was not a good match – she did not want an extension of high school and yearned to experience a diversity of thought, culture, etc. She certainly didn’t want to attend a school with 35,000+ other undergraduates. Annika managed for a couple of years, before dropping out. She is now working as a barista at a Starbucks.
Turns out the U wasn’t “cheaper” after all. 
You likely know someone who chose their college by following friends (or worse yet a boyfriend/girlfriend) or because they liked their sports teams or listened to crazy Uncle Bob who claimed, “XYZ University was great for me, it will be for you too” or relied only on “reputation” or waited until the last minute and “fell into a college” or etc., etc.
Unhappily, thousands of Pete’s and Annika’s begin college every year. Students who end up at the wrong school for all the wrong reasons – often leaving sometime during freshman or sophomore year. Annually hundreds of millions of dollars are lost on sunk costs you never get back (room/board/tuition/fees/travel/etc.), lost wages, credits which don’t transfer lengthening the time to degree completion, additional loan debt, and so forth and so on.
Contrast them with “Danielle” the Designer. 

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Egad, Danielle’s dream school is ranked 191st by a national college ranking service! Her dad, the practical sort, wants her to major in chemistry because it is a “promising” career field and of course he has a colleague whose daughter has a fashion design degree and is managing a GAP store at the Mall of America. Mom wants “her baby girl” to go to school close to home. 

What would you do?

Fortunately, Danielle never waivered. Cooler heads prevailed. Ignoring “rankings”, Danielle enrolled at her dream school. She recently completed her junior year and is on track to graduate in four years. This “so-called” 191st ranked program?
The Fashion School at Kent State University.  Industry insiders (those who really matter and do the hiring), consistently rank it as one of the top five in the country. According to one industry professional, “…with study abroad programs in NYC, Paris, & Milan; a large endowment for scholarships, a fashion-focused MBA program, a high profile within the fashion industry…this school is one of the top American fashion schools and keeps getting better…” It is/was a good fit for Danielle. 
“The one you don’t graduate from!” So simple, yet so true – the #1 college cost-saving strategy really is finding a “Good Match” school.
In fact, life happens, but research shows a strong correlation between enrolling at a “good match” school and retention and graduation from said school. 
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College is expensive enough. Follow Danielle’s lead. Chose the “right” college in the first place and it will save you thousands of dollars. 
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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 #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 #3 – Yield

 

What does “yield” have to do with college cost savings? Savvy consumers who understand how critical this figure is in admissions can often yield (pun intended) significant cost savings.
Yield is the metric most admissions directors obsess, fret, lose sleep over. Simply, yield = the number or percentage of admitted students who actually enroll and attend.
So, exactly why is yield important and why should you pay attention? Every college sets enrollment goals for its incoming class. Very few schools can boast of a yield rate like Stanford University of 82%:
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In reality, many colleges today scratch and claw for every student they enroll. In the 2018 State of College Admissions, the National Association for College Admission Counseling reported the average yield rate continues to decline – down to 33.6%.
Couple this with the fact the number of traditional college-aged students enrolling declined for the 7th consecutive year – Current Term Enrollment Fall 2018, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. means colleges (and admissions directors especially) feel the heat when they do not meet enrollment goals.
Multiple years of “low yields” translates to declining enrollments – which means budget shortfalls. On more than one campus I worked this meant delays in campus initiatives, building projects/upgrades or worse yet – program cuts and staff layoffs.
Is it any wonder many campus administrators and admissions directors lose sleep over “yield”?
Don’t feel too bad for them, they understand the ground rules, besides colleges have been less than transparent over the years in the pursuit of enrolling students:
  • Bombarded with brochures – a college reaching out doesn’t necessarily mean they have any intention of admitting you – many entice applications for the sole purpose of lowering admit rates in an attempt to boost rankings. 
  • Bait and switch – awarding more “free money” (grant and scholarship) to incoming freshman, and converting a % of this free money to loans in subsequent years. (always read the fine print on your financial aid award). 
  • Preferential Packaging – The art of offering more grants and scholarships to students it really wants to attract versus offering more loans to those “less desirable”.
  • Hidden costs – differential tuition rates, hidden fees, advertising room & board as “true” cost of attendance when in reality these are the “average” prices students pay,  etc. 
  • Do you really think early decision and early action admissions deadlines are designed to benefit “students”? If you do I have some property I would like to speak with you about.
  • etc., etc., etc. 
I digress…
Most colleges want- in actuality need – to yield as many students as possible from its pool of accepted students. Colleges often do “whatever it takes” to protect their yield. How might one benefit?
Let’s say hypothetically, Luther College is your top choice. Luther at 19% doesn’t have nearly the yield rate as Stanford.

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Furthermore, let’s assume Luther tends to compete with say, Gustavus Adolphus College (18% yield rate by the way), for the same pool of students.
Remember it is best to never eliminate a school until the end of this process – even if you have no intention of enrolling. Thus, hypothetically, I might suggest you show enough demonstrated interest in both schools to receive an offer of admissions.
For argument’s sake, we will say Gustavus Adolphus offered you $2,000 annually more in merit scholarships than Luther. You really prefer Luther, but…
Wink, Wink. Nudge. Nudge. See how “hypothetically” leveraging Luther’s “yield rate” versus Gustavus’s higher offer might potentially work in your favor (theoretically of course)?
Understanding the dynamics of “yield” can and does lead to cost savings – remember the average yield rate is currently about 33%. It will not work at every school, every situation is unique, and results can vary from year to year, but families can and do successfully mediate better financial packages.
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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 #5 – Planned Transfer

 

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I was reading an article the other day about how community college students can transfer to “Top” universities even an Ivy League school. The article highlighted the journey of a young man from a community college to Harvard, the implication – you can too.
What bull#8@%. Not total bulls… but mostly. Why?
The reality is “highly selective” – any school admitting less than 25% of students are not transfer friendly. Sure a handful of students transfer to these schools every year, but look at the numbers for Fall of 2017:
You might look at Northwestern University and think, “Not so bad”, until you realize Northwestern received 37,000+ applications for Fall 2017. Your odds are less than good and planning to transfer to these types of schools is not a practical strategy. 
The good news – many many colleges are transfer friendly. In fact, a large number rely on a steady stream of transfer students to meet enrollment goals every year.
A planned transfer is a great way to save on the overall cost of a college degree. Note the emphasis on “planned”.

 

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The first step in any planned transfer is to determine how transfer friendly a school is.
As a general rule of thumb, the greater the % of students admitted, the greater the likelihood a school is transfer friendly. Fortunately, it is not difficult to determine how selective a school is. There are plenty of college planning resources to utilize.
My favorite is – College Navigator. Search for a college and expanding the admissions tab reveals the admit rate:  

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Once you have determined if a college or two “might” be transfer-friendly, next research how these schools actually accept transfer credits.
Many colleges publish this information on their web site. Some even have handy tools to help you determine how credits will transfer from another school.
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UW – Eau Claire Transfer Wizard 

Many will refer you to Transferology (if they participate) an excellent transfer credit resource or MN Transfer. If you do your homework, you can determine exactly how schools will transfer your credits. But… 
Beware of general catalog statements (and even many articulation agreements). Many read a statement such as 

Transferring with an Associate Degree

  • The Minnesota Transfer Curriculum (MnTC) will grant a waiver of General Education requirements 
  • Associates of Arts (AA) degrees from Wisconsin and Minnesota will grant a waiver of University Requirements AND General Education requirements
and assume two years at a community college and two years at a four-year school and bingo – done.
Not so fast… Failing to understand what these statements really mean could result in not saving any money at all.
At the University of Wisconsin – River Falls (online catalog statement above) what they are really telling you is if you complete an associates degree at a community college you don’t need to complete the approximately 42 credits every student regardless of major must satisfy – their general education component is covered by your associate’s degree.
However, at UW-River Falls (75% admit rate) it takes a minimum of 120 credits to graduate… the remaining courses in your AA degree may or may not cover the other coursework necessary to complete your major.

UW River Falls

Many students can and do complete their associate’s degree, transfer to UW River Falls and complete a bachelors degree in two years. Others think this is the case, yet fail to research and determine how each and every course will transfer and do not.  
Just like a dual degree cost-saving strategy, you need to understand there is a BIG BIG BIG difference between a course being accepted in transfer and how it will be used to satisfy a degree requirement. Did I mention BIG?
Sure, many schools will accept your Associate’s Degree classwork in transfer, but the critical question you need to ask yourself  – how many actually count toward the X number of credits I need to complete my degree program?
When working with a family on a planned transfer – we don’t focus on completing an associate degree or in many cases explicitly following an established articulation agreement. We work backward. Strategically, determining how each and every course will transfer and reduce the number of credits needed to graduate. 
Often this means a student only spends two or three semesters at a community college. Why? Pretty simple really. For many majors, you will maximize the number of credits which will satisfy degree requirements at your targeted transfer school before you complete an associate’s degree. 
A planned transfer is a great college cost-saving strategy. It may not get you into Harvard, but if you are strategic and diligent it will save you money at plenty of “good fit” schools!

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Seem like a great idea, but too time-consuming? 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuition Tuesday – College Savings Event

college-fund

Find a great doorbuster deal this past shopping weekend.  Saved yourself a couple hundred $$. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Passé.

How does saving thousands of $$$ grab you? Carol Merrill, what are we featuring behind Door #3…

College Tuition Savings.

There are many strategies to save on college tuition costs. Taking advantage of dual credit options offered by your high school is one such strategy. There are a number of programs:

  • Advanced Placement (AP)

  • Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO)

  • International Baccalaureate (IB)

  • College in the Schools (CIS)

that may be available at your high school.  However, be careful and strategic in planning duel credit options in a high school curriculum. Why? Consider the following quote from one university system,  “Many of our colleges grant credit to first-year students who have participated in such programs, but each institution has a slightly different policy. Find out which colleges accept what.”

Very true, but also very incomplete. The rub. Not all transfer credit is created equal. There is a BIG BIG difference between “credits being accepted ” and how they “satisfy degree requirements.” The key – satisfying degree requirements. This is how you reduce time to degree completion, thus saving you time and $$.

Working with a trusted college admission professional can save you thousands of dollars on the cost of a four-year degree by helping plan a strategy to maximize the number of dual degree credits which count toward degree requirements or by simply steering you to good match colleges thereby increasing odds of graduating in four years.

Let’s make Tuition Tuesday an annual college planning blockbuster savings event.   Start saving on the cost of college today. As an added bonus – sign up for any of my college planning packages by December 31, 2016 and I will knock 10% off the price.

Happy Tuition Tuesday!

 

 

 

 

Does Tuition at Every College Cost $50,000?

No!  

Look at the tuition rates (approximate for 2015-16) for a handful of colleges in the image below.

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Yet ad nauseum I am reminded of the high price of college. This morning I read another story on the rising cost of college tuition. The other day my news feed was inundated with this storyaverage college debt is up again this year“. Why the doom and gloom? It sells. The sad reality is the mainstream media focuses 99% of their coverage, upon a handful of highly selective schools – the roughly 150 schools with admit rates under 20% and where tuition alone costs upwards of $40,000+
Are college cost rising. Yes, I won’t argue that point, but… there are many many great affordable programs that don’t cost the proverbial “arm and a leg”. When was the last time you read an article on Truman State University?  
Did you know Truman is considered a “Public Ivy”, is recognized as a College of Distinction, was a top producer of U.S. Fulbright students for the 2015-2016 academic year, and boasts high graduation, retention and post graduation rates rates? Oh, and it’s affordable. As a Midwest Student Exchange Program partner institution, out of state students in eight partner states (including MN) pay a MSEP tuition rate of approximately $10,728 this academic year. Look beyond the headlines!  
Look beyond the box scores! And beyond a geographic region. There is more to the Crimson Tide, than football. How does a full tuition scholarship opportunity for out of state students grab you? Touchdown! The University of Alabama offers attractive academic merit scholarships for out of state students with a composite ACT of 27+ and a 3.5+ GPA. A scholarship + a reasonable out of state tuition rate = affordable.  
One national college publication¹ reviewing small college bargains had this to say about the University of Minnesota Morris. “If you’ve ever taken a wrong turn on the way to Duluth, you might have stumbled upon one of the best public liberal arts colleges in the country.” Despite being geographically challenged (UM-Morris is pretty much due west of Minneapolis), the Fiske Guide does nail the fact it is a great academic institution. With both low tuition rates (in and out of state) and competitive merit scholarships, UM Morris is a very affordable option.  Look beyond the headlines!
Reduced out of state tuition options, i.e,. Reciprocity.  Residents of MN, WI, ND, SD, and the Canadian province of Manitoba enjoy lower tuition rates if they attend public colleges and universities in these states.  For MN residents, the University of North Dakota is one such option. There is a reason the Princeton Review included it in the 2015 The Best 379 Colleges edition. Low tuition, strong academic programs, and automatic merit scholarships = affordability. Look for regional tuition discount programs!
Look beyond four year degree options! Still haven’t grown out of the Thomas the Tank Engine phase? Dream of being a railroad engineer? Consider the Railroad Conductor Technology Certificate program at Dakota County Technical College. This program boasts established partnerships with many national and regional railroads, high program placement rates for graduates (the industry is experiencing high retirement attrition), and the 16 credit certificate program generally takes less than one year to complete. High placement rates + low tuition + < one year to complete + above average beginning salaries = affordable.
Good match colleges and universities exist for everyone. Eschew the doom and gloom articles. And any “College Rankings” for that matter. Find colleges that match “fit” your college bound students academic strengths, talents and interests and meet their needs academically, socially and financially. More good match colleges and programs exist than you might think.

¹Fiske Guide to Getting Into the Right College, 4th edition

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