First, a little background on OUR decision making process. I work at a branch of a private college whose main campus is about 4 hours from our home. My kids, as a benefit of my job, get free tuition at that school. Assuming they would be admitted, it would still cost me (at today's rates) over $20,000 for the three years of mandatory on-campus housing and a final year either in campus or off-campus housing. That's a chunk!
So--realistically--what are the options? For one child (I won't name names here!) there's the 2+/2 program--last two years of high school = dual enrollment for college credit. Huge savings, but....(there's always a "but," isn't there?) we live in a different state than the main campus. So, investigation # 1 is to find out if these credits will transfer.
If they won't? Well, the closest community college is a bike-ride away. Their standards are very low and people tend to drift in and out, not really serious about graduating. Still you could say the same about our Big State U, a two-hour drive upstate. There are three decent state universities (one in another state, but we have a reciprocal tuition plan) within an hour of our home. This could work, but part of college, to me, is going away. Still, economic reality has to figure in here.....so let's see what Debt Free U offers as possible solutions:
He, understandably, talks a lot about the value of a college education and if the uber-selective schools are really worth a life-time of student loan debt. Since neither of my kids are in any danger of heading to Harvard, I pretty much skimmed this. Sports or Academic Honors scholarships are pretty much not going to happen either. Nor are they very likely to head to graduate school. Instead, I took a look at a couple of the kids' stated career goals and applied what the book said to schools with those majors.
- I want to avoid student loans of more than a do-able $5,000 total for four years.
- Both kids are expected to work and apply their earning to their housing or tuition, gas etc.
- Both understand about CLEP tests and will use them to save a little money on tuition.
- I want them to be able to go away to school, but living at home is a valid, and perhaps necessary, option.
What I learned from the book:
- He's RIGHT!! Housing at school IS a HUGE rip-off!! $600 a month for housing + meals that DO cost as much as eating out. Wow! Just plain Wow! In the small town where "our" college is located rents for apartments or (gulp!) trailers are far less than that. But, you can't live off campus for the first 3 years. Built-in money maker or part of the college experience? I'd say both.
- Community College is a very worth while option. You get what you put into it and then some. You do have to be motivated to get what you are seeking though and that can be a problem for kids raised with hovering parents. Happily it's been sink or swim for mine!
- Invest in college town real estate. Nice idea, but not possible for us.
- Check your assigned version of the textbook against the older ones--probably not much difference (if any, aside from design or type face, maybe a few newer references) that can save you hundreds of dollars. As a librarian I can tell you this is EXCELLENT advice. The cost savings, especially when buying used online, can be staggering. He also does the math to show a great comparison (that is perfectly legal, ethical) on renting versus buying and reselling textbooks.
- Skip work-study jobs unless they're heavily weighted to study time or provide a real stepping stone to your career. Excellent advice, although at a small college in Nowhereville, the college may be the main employer. (I did work study, but only because I could study all but 2 days per semester. Otherwise I wouldn't have.)
- Selling on Ebay--I know a lot of folks do this as a 2nd income. This looks like a good possibility for some extra income.
- Take Independent Study to enhance your career goals by working on projects that can actually turn into something to help your career. (I did this and he's right.)
- Become a bartender or sales person: Bar tending is out since they will be too young and since they'd get thrown out of "our" college. At a state u this isn't a bad choice if you can stay sober. The author likes commission sales jobs. I wonder if this is really practical for a student. With the economy in the tank I wonder what LEGALLY sold products would bring in real money right now?? (Happily he warns students off Multi-level Marketing deals like Quixtar/Amway or "make $$$ in your dorm room" scam deals.)
- Temping. This is only as good as the economy in the area of your college, but he's right, it can be an excellent deal.
Unless I'm blind, he missed two of the best ways to get a degree, get experience and graduate with a job: Co-op and ROTC.
- Cooperative education (co-op) is a program that lets students work for an employer in their chosen field part of the year and study part of the year. The student often then works for the same employer after graduation. May not cover all expenses, but it's a huge help.
- ROTC. True, the military is not for everyone. And, also true, the military is scaling back. But ROTC is still a great program. Leadership training is valuable in any field. A guaranteed job for a few years after graduation with housing and benefits thrown is a good thing, too. You do have to qualify with decent grades and meet the physical requirements. You also have to pick a school with an ROTC program. Not hard if you are going to a state school. And, many private colleges have ROTC thru a local state school as well.
He doesn't seem to mention much about the "welfare to work" option:
- The "welfare to work" option. This is one we are having to seriously look at. No actual government assistance, just public school or Mom paying. By this I mean, going to Career Center the last two years of high school, getting a job and moving up until you have a job with real benefits that include employer paying for your schooling thru tuition reimbursement or a tuition benefit. Say, for example, you get an office tech certificate. Find a job somewhere doing word processing, data entry, call center, copy shop work, etc. See what the employer will pay for--only a business degree? Better than nothing! Or, earn a CMA and then go to work and let them pay you to become an LPN and then a BSN.
First-generation college students and their parents. Absolutely. Folks who really haven't been able to save and invest for college. Young adults sick of their no-benefits, 2 or 3 cobbled-together part-time jobs who are now ready to try college (or try it again). Folks who think life is over if their kid has to go to a state U or (gasp!!) community college due to being...er....ah.. UNDERmotivated (shall we say). Newly divorced or otherwise single parents who need an education to survive. All are going to get something out of this book.
Take away moment for EVERYONE from the book:
The author did it. No debt for college. He did it. You can too.
For another good book on saving time toward college see my post on College Without High School by Blake Boles.