3 Tips for attending college on the cheap

By | August 29, 2014 | Finance & Career

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3 Tips for attending college on the cheap | The Momiverse | Article by Al Jacobs

The title of my local newspaper’s editorial is ominous: “Student loan debt casts long shadow.” It presents the latest report released by the Campaign for College Opportunity, which reiterates what many people know: A majority of undergrads are taking on debt to attend college, some of it massive. Examples of students’ financial misfortunes are then described, all painfully believable. But it’s the editorial’s final sentence that leaves me confused: “The big question now is what, if anything, can we do about it?”

I’m not certain who we are. Am I, a former graduate with no offspring, part of we? Are parents who previously footed the costs of their children’s schooling included among we? More specifically, why should the collective we do anything about it when a college education is for the direct benefit of a specific recipient? This is a problem for the recipient and family to resolve, not we.

Now that I’ve disclaimed all personal responsibility for educating millions of people I don’t know, I’ll explain how each student can earn a diploma while without going into debt. I subscribe to the principle of college on the cheap. Here’s how:

1.   Pursue the first two years of post-secondary education, the freshman and sophomore years, at a local community college.

Here in my state of California, tuition costs are $46 per semester-unit. With a little counselor guidance, students may choose subjects that are fully transferable toward a university degree. In this way, a year’s course of study, consisting of a full load of 30 units, is available at a cost of $1,380 plus a few other fees. The next two years, as a junior and senior, are earned at a state university. Tuition charges vary with each state, but legal residents generally enjoy low preferential rates. The annual tuition for a full academic load at the California State University system is currently $5,472 plus about $800 in various fees.

2.   Live at and commute from home during the full course of study.

This requires cooperative parents, of course, and perhaps some negotiation will be in order between all parties involved. Family dynamics change as children grow into adults, but the favorable result of an economically obtained degree for the progeny should encourage compromises.

3.   Spend each summer between academic years working at a paying job.

The one benefit is obvious: Money earned will help finance the forthcoming school year. But there’s an added value. A component in toil instills appreciation for what learning is all about. The mixture of education and experience is a winning combination.

I’m thoroughly convinced that two years at a local community college followed by the junior and senior years at a reasonably priced state university is the way to go. This is because scholastic benefit depends more upon the student’s efforts than anything else. Neither the architectural characteristics of the campus and classrooms nor the credentials of the professors will determine the extent of learning acquired by a motivated student. A student who strives to learn will do so regardless of the accouterments.

Let me share my personal bias with you. Unless you or your parents have more money than you know what to do with, attendance at an acclaimed university represents an unwarranted expense. The time will come when your textbooks have been sold, your course notes burned, the names of your instructors forgotten, and your framed diploma relegated to a wall at which you rarely glance. At that point, your education is what’s left in your head. That’s what really counts.

I’ll conclude with a response to those critics who contend that a degree from an institution without an exalted reputation will forever stigmatize its holder. To you, I pose this question: Do you actually know from what schools your dentist, attorney, accountant, and physician received their bachelors’ degrees?

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Al Jacobs

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