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15 actions families are taking today to make college more affordable

By Luke Landes

For Consumerism Commentary

Published: Friday, Aug. 22 2014 9:26 p.m. MDT

Since 2008, Sallie Mae has been producing a report about paying for college on an annual basis. Each year, the report surveys Americans across the country to determine their attitudes and actions surrounding funding for college tuition and expenses.

Elaine Thompson, Associated Press

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Editor's note: This article originally ran on Consumerism Commentary. It has has been reprinted here with permission.

Since 2008, Sallie Mae has been producing a report about paying for college on an annual basis. Each year, the report surveys Americans across the country to determine their attitudes and actions surrounding funding for college tuition and expenses. This year’s report is extensive. It contains everything from a categorization of personas based on attitudes towards higher education to a breakdown of expenses paid. Like other good surveys, Sallie Mae’s report identifies stark differences between consumers’ attitudes about money and behavior with money.

Buried within the 58-page PDF summary of the report is something very actionable for today’s American consumer. Researchers asked the participants of the survey what actions their families had taken to make college more affordable. Other interesting data in the report include how families assign responsibility for paying for college in theory, and how those families actually divide the payment responsibility in actuality.

This is all very interesting, and the report is a great read for someone who has the time. But by focusing on the specific ways families have made college more affordable in the last year, I can share tips for people wrestling with the cost of college today, and these tie into the recent Naked With Cash topic of the month.

Many families adopted more than one of these strategies, so don’t limit yourself to just one. Also, not every strategy is right for every family or every student.

1. Choose an in-state school for lower tuition fees

Percentage of Americans using this strategy for the 2013-14 school year: 69 percent. Colleges typically offer reduced tuition rates for in-state residents. One reason public colleges and univertsities (state schools) offer reduced tuition for in-state residents is that household property taxes already paid often go to support these institutions. Colleges with state government funding have a charter that requires the school to offer many public services in return for that taxpayer support, and reduced tuition rates for in-state residents is generally one of those benefits.

It’s a long time ago now, but I’m surprised my parents didn’t require me to find a college to attend in my home state. I suppose they didn’t want me to feel any limitations; but they and I would have saved a lot of money had I attended a public university in New Jersey.

2. Cut back on the student’s entertainment spending

Percentage of Americans using this strategy for the 2013-14 school year: 66 percent, up from 60 percent. The classic frugal approach to saving money requires reducing expenses in one area to pay for something else, either savings or a different expense. In this case, saving money by reducing entertainment expenses can help handle the expenses of attending college. Fewer nights out at the movies, fewer bad restaurant meals, fewer rock concerts — all of these reductions can add up and help make more funds available for tuition.

Dollar for dollar, earning more money can be more effective than saving money from one expense category to better handle another. The student can get a job. But reducing expenses is still a popular strategy and can be employed to afford college.

3. Choose a school closer to home

Percentage of Americans using this strategy for the 2013-14 school year: 61 percent, up from 59 percent. The difficulty with attending a distant school is the cost of traveling between home and college. Attending a school with significant distance from home helps a young adult handle more life responsibility without falling back on parental assistance, but that comes at a price. One benefit of attending a school close to home is the reduced cost of transportation, though that benefit could be negated by more frequent trips to and from school.

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