Rethinking the College Investment

by Darwin on February 6, 2010

Kids entering your life? It’s never too early to start planning, we’re told. When a seven pound bundle comes through the front door with enough equipment to fill the room that used to be your office, all of a sudden planning becomes less of an option and more of a requirement.

For the last couple of decades, college planning has become an additional career for a lot of families. Specialized tools and plans have developed, to the point that today you can find many an online calculator and a maze of tables designed to tell you whether you’re making the grade. The relatively new – and vastly improved – federal savings device called the 529 Plan is growing by billions annually as parents start the set aside process while diapers are still part of the weekly shopping list.

Tuition, Fees and Costs are Headed Upwards

There’s a sea of statistics that drives those investments: students over the 2010 academic year will average $7,020 in tuition and fees at public universities; the average figure for private schools this year is $26,273. You can count on those public school figures rising substantially over the next few years. The average surcharge for an out of state student at a public university is $11,528 (statistics courtesy of

And that’s to get in the door. Throw in books, room and board and the average overall cost in 2007 averaged about $13,000 for a public school and well over $30,000 for a private institution. These figures, drawn from the National Center for Education Statistics, are part of yet another spreadsheet that shows an increase of about 50% for costs at four year schools over the last ten years alone.

What is it that you’re Investing In?

Those figures and the rate at which they’re accelerating are enough to send a parent who wants to do right by his or her student into a financial spin. The costs are intimidating and they’re just going to get worse…students are leaving college tens of thousands in debt; every week some pundit somewhere publishes a piece asking the obvious – is a college degree worth it?

When I worried about my daughter’s college education, I did so with my own education as the template. But when I enrolled in the local public university, total fees were just over $600 per year. I couldn’t do for my daughter what my parents did for me, and it’s likely the same will be true for upcoming generations.

Invest in those College Credits Wisely

That’s why college should be considered on a rate-of-return basis. Another figure from College Board tells us that 31% of all full time students are now enrolled in a two year, or community college. The figures also show that average tuition is just over $2,000 for those schools. Being a “transfer student” isn’t just for athletes any more; it’s for smart students with limited budgets who can get the core courses for a bachelor’s degree out of the way cheaply.

It’s also for parents who want to maximize that college investment – not stretch it, but put it to work most effectively. Saving twenty two thousand dollars over two years on tuition, room and board is going to open up options for that student when considering where to go to complete the degree. Maybe it’s an out of state school that’s suddenly affordable.

Or maybe completing the bachelor’s degree through a combination of community college and a public university, puts enrollment in graduate school within reach. Perhaps the saddest thing about the incredible scramble that higher education has become today is the fact that the dollars involved can stifle ambition in young, capable students.

When I was a confused adolescent, the dinner table discussions were always about “where would you like to go to college?” Perhaps today the focus needs to be, “How far do you want to go?” That puts expectations into focus and makes the college goal more about achievement and less about the cultural experience that it has been for previous generations.

Article Source: Bob Hartzell is a freelance writer for Get Degrees®. Easily find and compare program costs from any top rated online colleges and universities.

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