The College Cost Environment

Paying for college is not a one-shot, one-year affair. Parents and grandparents will have to think in terms of four years for a baccalaureate, six years or longer for a graduate or professional degree, and an eternity if they have seven bright students spaced two or three years apart. Since you may be paying college bills for many years to come, it is essential to understand a bit more about the overall college cost environment.

Tuition costs continue to outpace inflation. According to the College Board, average tuition and fees for four-year public colleges have increased at a rate almost three times that of inflation. There are several reasons for the rapid increase in tuition:

Despite this, colleges must compete for students because there aren’t enough students to fill all the waiting ivy-covered halls. This competition is both fierce and expensive, with recruitment costs as high as $1,000 per freshman enrolled. Competition also allows parents and students to become more sophisticated shoppers. Many post-secondary schools may offer competitive financial aid packages to get students to attend their institutions.

Median Household Income by Educational Attainment of Householder, 2007

One bit of good news is that college still pays. College is an investment for a lifetime. "Research shows that people with college degrees have more job choices and earn more money. In fact, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, those with a bachelor’s degree earn over 60 percent more on average than those with a high school diploma. Over a lifetime, the gap in earning potential between a high school diploma and a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree is more than $800,000," according to the College Board.

College is also more affordable than most people think. Only 6 percent of undergraduate students attend schools costing $24,000 or more per year. Most students attend colleges costing less than $8,000, and many who attend two-year colleges pay less than $2,000.

Furthermore, more people are eligible for financial aid than realize it. Many people who would easily qualify for need-based financial aid mistakenly believe that families with incomes over $35,000 are not eligible. There is currently more than $168 billion of financial aid available. To qualify, a family must pass a needs test that considers not only family income and assets but also the total cost of education for all family members as well. Families putting two or more family members through post-secondary education very often qualify for substantial financial aid despite "high" family income.

Although post-secondary education costs have risen dramatically, the cost of higher education is not out of reach for most families. There are several options available to make higher education possible. Apply for financial aid. Choose a school that is within your family budget (including financial aid). Also, plan early.

This article provided by The Educated Investor and powered by CalcXML.
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