How to Pay for College - Nancy McKenna ––

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Celebrities who went to Community College

What do George Lucas, Amy Tan. Steve Jobs, Guy Fieri and Walt Disney have in common?

I bet you can guess, based on the title of this blog post.

The quick answer is “success.” Each of these men and women is incredibly successful.  And build great wealth.

Guess what else they have in common?

They all got their start at a community college.

That’s hard to believe, right? Community college has gotten such a bad rap over the years that kids do everything they can to avoid it. The truth is that it can be a great way to start the college experience. It didn’t slow these successful people down, and it won’t slow your child down, either.

6 Reasons Community College Is a Great Start

Still not convinced that community college is the way to go when your child graduates high school? Check out some reasons that community college is a great start.

Save Money on Tuition

You don’t want your child to be saddled with debt upon graduation, and that makes community college the smart choice. The average annual cost of tuition and fees for the 2017–18 school year was $3,570 for public, in-district community colleges, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. Compare that to $9,970 for public in-state colleges, and you can see that community college offers a huge savings.

In a mere two years, your child can save almost $13,000. The money saved can go toward tuition for the next couple of years of school.

Save Money on Room and Board

Parents often forget how expensive room and board is at college. The average cost for the 2017–18 school year was $10,800 for public four-year in-state schools, according to CollegeBoard. That’s more than $2,000 more than the average cost at a community college.

Your child can do much more than save $2,000 a year, though. He or she also has the option to live at home while attending community college. That way, your kid could save an extra $10,800 a year. That’s money in the bank you can use to pay for the last two years at a four-year university.

 Smaller Class Sizes

Students like to get individualized attention, but that can be close to impossible at a four-year school. Public schools tend to have large classes, so your child might be one of hundreds sitting in a lecture hall. There’s a good chance the instructor won’t even have a clue who your child is. He or she will just be a name among hundreds of names.

Community college classes tend to be much smaller. Classes are often the same size as they were in high school, so your child can ease into the college experience. He or she will get much-needed individualized attention at a community college. Plus, these colleges tend to offer tutors and other options to help kids who need even more attention.

By the time your child transfers to a four-year college, he or she will be ready to handle the coursework without the extra attention. That means your kid will be positioned for success. You want what’s best for your kid, and community college just might be it.

Flexible Schedule

If you’re still trying to save for a four-year college, your child might have to step in and help. That could mean getting a job during the first couple of years of school. Community colleges offer flexible schedules that include lots of night class options. This makes it much easier for your child to work and go to school. That money earned from working can help your kid pay for the last two years at a four-year college.

More Time to Choose a Major

When your child walks into a four-year college, he or she will meet with an advisor. The first question asked will be, “What’s your major?”

That’s an incredibly difficult decision for an 18-year-old to make. It’s hard to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life when you just finished high school.

If your child changes the major after a year or two, he or she might have to spend more time in school. That means even more money on tuition.

Attending a community college gives your child the time needed to explore options. He or she will get the general requirements out of the way during community college and then can choose the major. Think about how much easier it will be for your kid to choose a major at 20 as opposed to 18. It’s not just the age, either. After completing the general requirements, your child will also have a better idea of what he or she likes and doesn’t like at the college level.

More Time to Choose a Four-Year College

Your child will get a taste of college at a community college. Many have student groups and offer activities. Then, of course, your child will attend lots of classes. This taste of college life will make it easier for your child to decide on a four-year school. Instead of just choosing a school where his or her friends are going, your child will look at the various opportunities available at the school. It’s easy to make an informed decision on a school when you have time to evaluate your specific wants and needs.

Say Yes to Community College

Don’t let the stigma of community college hold your child back. These colleges have changed a lot over the years, and they provide many benefits that you can’t get at a four-year institution. Plus, once your child completes the two-year program, he or she can transfer to a four-year college. Talk to your kid about the possibility of going to a community college and explain the benefits. This could be the best option for your family.

Why Did College Become So Expensive?

You’ve likely heard the saying that 30 years ago, paying for college was like buying a car, but today, it’s like buying a house. That’s not just a soundbite. If you adjust prices to reflect inflation, students paid an average of $3,190 in tuition to attend a four-year institution for the 1987-88 school year. Fast forward 30 years to the 2017-18 school year, when students paid an average of $9,970.

You know that college is more expensive, but why? What makes college cost so much more today than it did just a few decades ago?

There isn’t a single answer to the question. Instead, the rising cost of tuition is based on various factors.

Common Theories

Let’s look at the common theories that people have put forth. First, of course, you’ve likely heard people attribute it to basic inflation. Inflation definitely impacts the cost of college, but as you can see from the example above, college prices have gone up dramatically even when adjusted for inflation. This theory is incorrect. Inflation is not responsible for the dramatic increase in tuition.

The next theory has to do with accessibility. Politicians want to make college more accessible for everyone, and that’s created two issues. First, in order to make college more accessible, the government had to make student loans easier to get. Now, just about anyone can get a student loan, regardless of income or credit score.

That brings us to the next issue. Because so many people are going to school, there is a supply and demand issue. Colleges were initially unable to accommodate all those people coming in with student loans, so they had to hire more staff. More staff means more overhead, and more overhead means higher tuition costs.

That’s a reasonable theory, and it’s partially why the country is in the middle of a student loan crisis.

The biggest reason that college is so expensive, though, has to do with the amenities. The colleges of today are not the colleges of yesteryear. Now, people expect more and more with their college experience, and that’s driving the prices up.

Luxurious Campus Syndrome

College students today suffer from something called “luxurious campus syndrome.” They expect their campuses to have the same amenities you’d find at a 5-star resort. They are technically there to get an education, but, they want the 5-star treatment at every turn, and that costs money.

Let’s look at all the factors that contribute to this dangerous syndrome.

College Dorms – All the Comforts of Home at a Price You Can’t Afford

Do you remember when you were in college? The dorms were nothing to write home about. They were cramped, the lighting was bad, and the bathrooms were disgusting. Yet, you dealt with it, because that’s what was expected at college. You weren’t there to enjoy a vacation. You were there to learn.

Well, that has changed quite a bit. Now, students get all the comforts of home when they’re away at the dorm, and it costs money.

Take Ivy House and Windsor Hall at the University of Florida in Gainesville, for instance. Dubbed “luxury dorms,” these are not the dorms of the old days. The female-only Ivy House has private jetted Jacuzzis, a sun deck, and a gourmet kitchen. Oh, and then there’s the opulent living room that has a big-screen TV and a fireplace. With all those amenities, how in the world can kids have the time to study?

The Windsor House is a coed dorm complete with luxury bathrooms that are even larger than the ones in the Ivy House. These dorms also have kitchenettes in them. Apparently, the days of microwaving ramen in the dorm rooms are over. Now, kids can cook a full meal in between studying for classes.

That’s just one example. The University of Chicago’s Max Palevsky Residential Commons consists of eight “houses,” and each one has its own personality. The dorm has its own courtyard, dining hall, and a basement for everyone to share. It even has music practice rooms.

Here’s the best one. The University of Texas at Austin is home to the Callaway House. This dorm offers an absurd number of amenities. Can you imagine having a rooftop pool and hot tub at your dorm? How about a game room and a theater room? Then, of course, the staff is on call 24/7 just in case anything comes up.

As you can see, these are no longer dorms. They are luxury resorts, and parents and their children are paying the price.

Campus Gyms – A “Free Amenity” Is More Expensive Than Ever

Next, colleges are going bigger and better with their gyms. Fitness centers are nothing new to college life. Most colleges have some sort of place for students to work out, but in the past, these gyms were anything but extraordinary. You would find some free weights, maybe a few machines, and if you were lucky, your gym had a track. That was basically the extent of it.

gym with climbing walls

Guess what? That has changed dramatically.

The University of Maine might be the biggest offender when it comes to opulent gyms. The university put $25 million into its 87,000-square-foot fitness center. It has floor-to-ceiling windows, which is a departure from the fitness centers of the old days that barely had enough light to see the free weights. The rock-climbing wall helps the kids stay in shape, or they can utilize the 140 pieces of equipment.

The crown jewel is the indoor aquatic complex, though. With a lap pool, coed sauna, and a hot tub big enough for 20 people, it’s amazing these kids have enough time to do anything but soak in the water. Oh, but when they do want to get out, they can rent snowshoes or cross-country skis from the center and hit the trails. Can you imagine having all that in college?

That gym sure does sound nice, but think about that price tag. If a school pays $25 million on a gym, it has to get the money back somehow, and that is where those high tuition prices come into play. There is no such thing as a truly “free” amenity in college.

And did I mention waterparks?  And lazy rivers?  There is actually an article comparing the best 

Cafeterias – 5-Star Cooking at College

College cafeterias used to have some pretty bad food. In fact, there were times when it was hard to get meals down. It seemed like the food had been warmed up over 100 times by the time it finally made it to your tray. Sometimes, it felt like the food was older than you were.

Still, even though the food wasn’t good, you ate it because that’s all you had. You just tried to imagine your mom’s homecooked meals while stuffing the overcooked chicken down your throat.

Now, though, students don’t have to worry about finding good food at college. Cafeterias are so much better than ever before, and many have gone a little too far.

Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, is the perfect example of how far schools have gone when it comes to dining. This college offers gourmet dishes in the dining hall. Can you imagine getting Asian-style pork with duck sauce or mussels at the campus cafeteria? Well, you can here. The college even has lobster bakes that include fresh lobsters and other seafood options. Lobster isn’t cheap, and the idea of having a lobster bake at college is borderline ridiculous.

Then, it has its own on-campus café. Forget the Freshmen 15 at this school. It might turn into the Freshman 50 with all that good eating.

The Complete Luxurious Experience – Amenities at Every Turn

Some schools don’t just offer nice dorm rooms or great food. They have a little bit of everything, creating a resort-like atmosphere at a price most people can’t afford.

High Point University in High Point, North Carolina, is the perfect example of the 5-star resort experience some universities are offering. It underwent a $700 million campus renovation, and now it offers everything you would want when you’re on vacation, but these kids get it while in school.

The residence halls have pools and restaurants, and you can play basketball and volleyball without leaving home. Oh, and one of the dorms even lets people live with their pets. Seriously. Students are allowed to share dorm rooms with their pets. That is insane.

Then there’s the campus movie theater. The students get free tickets and concessions, but are those amenities really free? It also has an arcade, plus its own steakhouse. Students can use their meal plans to get a five-course meal once a week.

All of this for around 4,000 students.

As you can imagine, those 4,000 students pay a hefty price tag to go to this school. Tuition is $35,118, and the room and dining plan is $14,130. That doesn’t leave much money for books, does it?

Football – The Pastime Gets Expensive

Football and college have gone together for generations, but it used to be a fun game to watch with your friends. Now, it’s a big business. Colleges want to have the best football programs to bring in students, and that costs money.

The University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban makes a whopping $11.1 million, with a potential bonus of $700,000. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is the second-highest paid college coach at $8.5 million. Don’t feel bad for Swinney. He has a potential bonus of $1 million.

How do you think these college coaches get paid? Sure, the programs bring in money, but it’s highly likely that tuition supports a lot of those salaries. It costs to go to a school with a top-notch football program. Cheering the team on might be fun, but writing those tuition checks sure isn’t.

The Unintended Consequences – Drowning in Debt

These amenities are wonderful, but there is an unintended consequence. Student loans are out of control.

Student loan debt has reached $1.48 trillion in the United States. That’s trillion, with a “T.”

That debt is divided among 44.2 million Americans.

Sadly, many cannot afford to pay their student loans. There is a delinquency rate of 11.2 percent. That’s a scary statistic. Colleges cannot take the degrees back from the student when they don’t pay their loans, so what is going to happen? The student loan bubble is likely about to burst. Remember what happened when the housing bubble burst? That was catastrophic. It could be even worse when the student loan bubble bursts.

That’s all terrifying, but do you want to know the most troubling static?

Parent Plus loans have reached the $88 billion mark. These loans have the highest interest rates and origination fees of all the student loans, and that’s why so many parents are carrying student loan debt into retirement.

Ask yourself this. If you didn’t have the money to save for college in advance, are you going to have the money to pay those loans off in the future?

The answer is no. That means if you take out these loans, you’re likely to end up paying on them well into your golden years. Is that really how you want to spend your retirement?

Make Smart Decisions

Parents and students need to come together and make smart choices about college. Your coed does not need a swimming pool on the roof or a 5-course meal. He or she can also leave Fido at home instead of bringing the pup into the dorm.

These amenities are not free. You pay for them now, or you pay for them later with student loans. Either way, you are wasting your money when you get all these amenities.

The student loan bubble will likely burst, and soon, families will be forced into making smarter decisions. Be a leader instead of a follower. Make smart decisions now so you won’t have to worry about it later.

If you aren’t sure how to pay for college without taking out loans, enroll in a virtual workshop and get the information you need. That way, you won’t drown in debt to fund a four-year degree.

My Son Joined The Marine Corps Instead of Going to College

My son is a senior in high school, and he has decided to forgo college to enlist in the Marine Corp right after graduation.  He was sworn in to the Delayed Entry program today.  

This isn’t the path I had planned for him.  When Tommy first told me he wanted to join the military I was so proud!  I also started researching  ROTC programs for the various military branches.  

  • This is a child who scored in the 96th percentile on the SAT exam – with NO test prep.
  • This is a child who grew up in a 3,200 square foot home
  • This is a child who has a college fund
  • This is a child who was pre-ordained to go to college

Yet he wants to join the Marine Corp, rather than go off to experience college life.

It's been an interesting experience, reconciling myself to his choice.

Am I A Snob?

This desire of his to enlist seems to be a calling of sorts.  I've decided to support him.   I think the fact that I'm concerned that his future will be less advantaged if he enlists may say more about me than it does about him.

Why do I feel my child need to be the boss (an officer) rather than an enlisted person? 

College life today

Tommy could have chosen an easier path.  A college life with fancy dorms (some colleges now have water parks!  movie theaters!  pet-friendly dorms!) , Spring Break in Cabo, then a move into today’s corporate world where, well if isn’t fun, we’re doing something wrong!  Where companies must keep young workers engaged!    

Well, my son will be spending his time rising at dawn (or earlier) sharing barracks with how many sweaty souls, writhing through the mud, and not knowing where he'll be shipped off to.  He wants this.  He wants to push himself. Most don't.

I drove from my office to the recruiting station one evening last week.  What a contrast!  Our office with the video games, exceptionally lax dress code, lights-out environment to the recruiting office.  The recruiting office was brightly lit, filled with high-energy people with their ramrod straight posture, calling me "ma'am".  The contrast was striking.   I began to think that maybe his decision isn't a bad one.   


I have raised my two kids without a father.  One of my sisters suggested that the fact that Tommy was raised by a single mother may play into this decision.  Perhaps he’s been craving a testosterone-laden environment.  Maybe she's right?

My website

I have been preaching the debt-free degree gospel for some time.  Did I put too much emphasis on this?   I had to ask him if he is enlisting simply to help me avoid cost of college?  I would feel terrible if that were the case.  He assures me that it is not the reason.

Where we live

Seven years ago we moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Northwest New Jersey.  We live about 45 miles northwest of Manhattan in Sussex County.  Sussex County is a beautiful, "semi-rural" area.  Our house has a well that provides our water, a septic tank and we use propane.   Point is, it was a big departure  from how I grew up, and where we lived previously.  It's more of a small-town American environment.  Some might call it Trump Country.  This has definitely played a role in Tommy's decision to enlist.  A few of his classmates are also enlisting.

Will he still go to college?

In speaking with the recruiter, I feel more more comfortable with this decision to enlist.  The recruiter told me that two of his fellow Marines got aeronautical engineering degrees while enlisted.   You can go to college free while enlisted.  Up to 5 courses per semester.  Every base offers college courses.

Another of the recruiters at the local recruiting station finished her undergraduate degree while stationed in Japan.  She is now working on her Master’s Degree and has zero student debt.

Then there is the GI bill.  There are two:  the Montgomery GI bill that you pay into a little each month, and the 9/11 GI bill which is not only at no cost, but is transferable to a spouse or child.  And there is no time limit to its use.

My son asked if I would give him the college fund for use as a down payment on a house in the future.  I said yes. This was my plan anyway. I swear.  

How can we give him this college money without a big spanking from the IRS?

I can:

  • Shift the funds in his 529 to his sister 
  • Start a new savings fund for him earmarked for his future house, and stop putting funds into his 529 
  • Give him the funds in the 529 plan and take the 10% penalty on the earnings.  This would be loads of fun to calculate, as I’ve contributed since he was a baby. 

I will likely do a combination of the first two things.  Of course, this assumes he does graduate from college. He has promised me that he will.

Examining my feelings

One friend counseled that "it's his path.  Support him".   If I keep telling him to go to college instead of enlisting, what purpose would that serve?  His heart won't be in it, or he'll simply stop talking to me about it and sign up when he turns 18 anyway. 

Plus I think of today's young college grads. Of this generation that grew up never hearing criticism - from a parent, teacher or, now, a boss.  I am not certain this has been a good strategy. And my son wants to volunteer for the ultimate in physical rigor and discipline.   And from the movies I've seen, he'll be hearing plenty of "feedback" from the drill sergeants.

I think this says a lot about his character.  

Marine Corp drill instructor

He has a sense of purpose and drive

I see him maturing faster already.  I think of a quote from Winston Churchill.  The beginning part is a bit dated, forgive Winston, so I'll skip it, but the last part is the part I believe to be true: something to the effect of  “...but a boy is as old as he is treated”.  

Parents today "manage" their children so closely that I feel we retard their growth.  Well not my son.  He will be away at boot camp for 13 weeks with no cell phone.  He can call home twice, I believe.  

Even throughout the recruiting process there have been appointments to keep, proper forms to be completed, tests to endure – 100% of which he did on his own.  Mom didn’t have these in her calendar, nor did I prompt him to complete anything.

I believe his maturity will be light years ahead of his peers who will be in today's universities. 

In closing

I am excited that my son has found his path. I am very proud of Tommy and his very adult choice.  

And I thank him for his (future) service.

How to speak to your child about your college budget

have you had "the talk" with your teen yet? The one about your college budget?

When you were a child, your parents probably didn’t talk to you much about your college budget. That’s likely because college used to cost a whole lot less, and that difference has little to do with inflation.

For instance, take the average amount that public college students paid for the 1987–88 school year. When adjusted for inflation, those students would have paid $3,190 in 2017.

As tuition continues to go up, it’s more important than ever before to talk to your child about his or her college budget. 

You just need to know when to do it and what you should discuss. Get the skinny so you’ll be ready to have the talk with your college-bound child.

How Much Can You Afford?

More than 70 percent of students took out loans of the 2017–18 academic year. Those loans came out to an average of $37,172 per student, and that was just for one year. Imagine that going on for four years.

Don’t let your child fall into the student debt trap. Instead of taking out loans, look at how much you can reasonably afford to pay out of pocket. If you are unsure of how much you can afford, sign up for a virtual workshop to get the tools you need to figure out how much you can spend on college. This will give you the perfect starting point for talking to your child.

When to Have the Talk

Once you know how much you can afford, it will be time to have the talk. Some parents try to put off having the talk as long as possible, but that can lead to a lot of anger and confusion. Kids get their expectations up, and the closer they get to college, the higher those expectations will be if you fail to manage them. That’s why it’s important to talk to your child early.

By the time your child is in middle school, he or she is ready for the talk. Let your child know how much you can reasonably afford for school, so he or she can plan accordingly. For example, if that quaint little private school is out of the question, let your kid know right off the bat. Then, he or she will have a realistic view of what to expect after graduating from high school. Once you are on the same page, it will be so much easier to make the transition from high school to college.

Community College Is a Viable Option

Your child will likely want to go to a four-year university right away. It’s normal to want to start at a university, but community college is often the right decision. That’s especially true if you’re committed to staying out of debt.

Tuition at community colleges is often thousands of dollars less than it is at a four-year university. Your child can also save money on room and board since he or she can live at home while attending community college.

Then, at the end of the two years, your child can transfer to a four-year school. That way, you’ll only have to pay for two expensive years of college.

Let Your Kid Add to the Kitty

When you have the talk with your child, he or she might not be happy with the budget. Your child might have dreams of going to a more expensive college. Remind your child that he or she has some control over the process. Your kid can always add to the college budget by getting a job.

You do need to approach this carefully. A study published in the American Educational Research Journal found a correlation between working long hours and reduced academic performance. Long hours can also lead to negative behaviors and other issues.

Of course, allowing your son or daughter to get a summer job is a lot different than letting him or her work 20 hours a week during the school year. Come up with ground rules before you let your child get a job. Then, monitor his or her performance outside of work to make sure it isn’t interfering with anything.

Jobs aren’t just for high school, either. Your child can continue to work while in college. That will allow you to add to the college budget since you won’t have to pay for his or her living expenses.

Start Prioritizing

You can also change some of your own behaviors to help add to the college budget. For instance, you might want to buy a new car this year, but what if you waited? How much more could you add to the budget?

Write down a list of everything you want and need, and then prioritize it. Hold off on big-ticket items until you get your son or daughter through college. That’ll make your life much easier. Then, when he or she graduates from college, you can make yourself the priority once again.

The Bottom Line – Avoid Debt at All Costs

As a parent, it is your job to get your child through college without accumulating any debt. Students who take on lots of debt are more likely to have financial and relationship issues down the road. In fact, 1 in 8 divorces is a result of student debt. That’s a staggering statistic, and it should tell you everything you need to know about student loans.

You can keep your child out of debt by determining how much money you have to spend and then having the talk. Set expectations early and reinforce them often. Also, explain why student debt is so dangerous.

The more you educate and inform your child, the less likely he or she is to take on crippling debt. Then, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you helped your child make it through college without taking on debt.

If you have to borrow for freshman year…

If you have to borrow for freshman year of college - won't you have to borrow for all four years?

This just isn't a good idea.  There are lower cost alternatives, and freshman year is the best time to try one of these alternatives.

Community College

Of course - community college is the best known solution.   Heck, many kids aren't ready emotionally to go away to college at age 18 anyway.  It sounds exciting - but today's kids are used to living "a certain lifestyle" - and sharing a bedroom is not part of that lifestyle!

And, how many of us know kids who have gone off to college only to come back home for one reason or another.   If they had borrowed money for the semester, it really stinks.

Why not skip the dance, and just have your child stay at home and go to community college freshman year?  

Community colleges are a great way for kids to segue into college.  They can also, perhaps, get their grades up and be better qualified for aid when they go to a 4 year college.  Your child should also be working and saving for the four year school.  (So should you).  

Tuition Rembursement

Did you know that there are many nationally-known companies that have terrific tuition reimbursement programs?  Your child can work at Starbucks, UPS, Fed Ex - and many other companies, and get tuition reimbursement right away.  Check their websites for information.   Your child can live at home and work at one of these well-known companies and begin profiting right away!

Uncle Sam

Does your child have a patriotic bent?  I wouldn't suggest this unless your child wants to go this route, but wow - the tuition benefits are really outstanding.  My son is interested in joining up.  The question is how this will happen.  I want him to go to college, try the ROTC program freshman year to make sure it's for him, then try for a scholarship sophomore year.   He is not as forthcoming as I would like, but I fear he will enlist right out of high school.  

Love Europe?

Did you know that there are hundreds of English-language programs  at universities in Europe that are downright cheap?  Cheaper than many community colleges!  Of course, the student would have to live somewhere, but what a crazy wonderful thing!