Future Tuition Worries? Read this!


In December of 2014 Kiplinger created a tremendous chart Best Values in Public Colleges (click for chart) . It compares the tuition of 100 top public Colleges and Universities.  The chart includes  in-state tuition verses out-of-state tuition while including critical data such as admit rate, four-year graduation rate, financial aid consideration and average debt at graduation. Notice how many schools report average debt at  graduation is $20K or less, over four years. $5K per year  in loans  is a very reasonable amount for a student to borrow. This chart is interactive & can be resorted as you heart desires by clicking at the top of the columns! Very FUN for spreadsheet geeks!

Who cares about the Admit  (Admissions) rate?  If an admit rate below 30%,  that means that it is very competitive to be accepted and your GPA and test scores should be in the upper % of the school’s averages, although you should definitely submit an application since statistics and candidate pools change every year.  Never think a school is “safety”, many students have been disappointed by their so-called “safety” schools. Learn what  the admissions department is looking for beyond the published statistics, by  attending their information sessions or calling the department.

Four year Graduation Rate is an important consideration. Many of the best students do not graduate in four years, sometimes due to their own missteps or perhaps they switched majors or withdraw from a difficult class. However, if students are NOT graduating in four years due to the university over enrollment and the college cannot meet the demand, this could be a costly problem.  Sometimes a student will miss out on taking a  required class due to over enrollment. The university may just shrug their shoulders and  advise them to take it the following year, which could delay graduation and mean more tuition bills.

The graduation rate is important in that it reflects the culture of the school, such as:

  • are the students happy on campus and with their overall college experience?
  • are the students studious and goal-oriented?
  • are 100s of students failing out because of a party culture?

If 50% of the students are not graduating on time it is a red flag that you might as well consider tacking on at least another semester of room, board and tuition or earning credits by attending summer school, which will be another tuition bill. A low graduation rate does not have to deter the potential student, they should be aware that their may be obstacles and to prepare accordingly.

Freshman Retention rate is another statistic to keep in mind. Although freshman retention rate is not part of the Kiplinger chart it is another noteworthy statistic for the same reasons as mentioned above. If 100s of freshman students are not returning to campus you need to ask yourself why and would these reasons affect you.

Although a school might have a low freshman retention rate, or graduation rate, if you are interested in the school, you should check it out.  If you like the classes or programs offered, make your decision to attend and be part of the solution for improving their statistics.  Finally, earn your Bachelors degree at a college you can afford. :)

Trending – Willingness to Pay

Trending— Fewer parents are willing to pay full tuition at all levels in both the public and private institutions, even if they have the ability to pay the full sticker price.

We learned at a recent NJ Association for College Admissions conference that Admission and Financial Aid Offices have seen a record high number of families who have requested  that their child’s admission offer be reevaluated for greater Merit Awards or Financial Aid. These requests are coming from many families who can afford the tuition but they are now reconsidering the value of a bachelors degree at $80k to $200k.

Why the sudden blossoming of “Lets Make a Deal” college financial decisions?

Just about everyone knows someone who has has been downsized or unemployed due to company cut backs in the last few years. Scary times indeed. If you have first hand experience of not having income for a 6 month period, it’s hard to justify spending $20K to $50K annually on an 18 year old to go off to college.  Remember “Animal House”… Can you risk spending that much on your 18 year old?

Like the private college counseling business boom in the past 10 years, so has grown the college financial planning business. College financial planners  have coached many price conscious parents to shop around. Get a scholarship offer from school and then go back to Suzy’s first choice school and ask them to match the offer.

Colleges are not necessarily caving in to the pressure to offer more scholarships or financial aid; after all, they have hundreds of employees on their payrolls too. However, it is nice to know that other families are in the same boat – is yours a row boat, motor boat, or yacht ?  :)


Extra Credits = Early Graduation = Saving $


2 Thumbs Up for AP Credits

The “Tail end” Method  – Good students should definitely take those challenging AP courses (Advanced Placement) when offered. Not only does it make you a more attractive applicant, earning AP credits is a great “tail end” method of saving BIG tuition dollars.Oddly enough, high school guidance department do not make a big deal about how a 3 credit AP course could save you anywhere from $500 to $3000 dollars down the road.  Not surprising, often colleges are low key about accepting your AP credit, since it cuts them out of your tuition $. Since often students end up dropping a course and needing to make it up to stay on track for graduation, these high school AP credits can save you from summer session.

The really BIG savings come when you have mulitple credits.  One savvy student we know earned 9 AP credits in high school. While in college he earned 5 more credits with a summer session abroad  (alternatively, community college summer credits may work). When entering his senior year of college, he needed 19 credits to graduate, which he enrolled for and completed that fall semester.

While early graduation may not sound appealing to a student who loves attending college, it can be…  For the spring semester, with his parents blessing, he lived in off campus housing, did not have the stress of exams and he saved his parents $18,000 in tuition. He made great use of the time by working at an internship while looking for full-time employment and he worked at the local pub for his spending money. Pretty Smart.

State U vs. Private U


It may seem obvious that attending a State University will save you BIG tuition dollars, but there are circumstances, such as being an out of state resident,  where you may end up paying as much or more than if you went to a private college.

Why? Many of the large flagship universities have become over enrolled. This is creating a bottle neck of students registering for required courses. Often, the student misses out on taking required coursework sequences (i.e., Bio 101 in the fall, Bio 102 in the spring), then graduation might be delayed by a year or more. This is a large problem with the California state colleges.

Factoring in a 5th year of college is not a bad idea, especially if the student is  disorganized or a “late bloomer”.

For example:

2012         Tuition/Rm/ Board         Annual tuition                  Total*

Rutgers           NJ Resident           $25K  x  4yrs= $100K + 5yr=$125,000

Penn State     Out of State            $38K  x  4yrs= $152K + 5yr= $190,000

Marist (NY)    Private College       $43K  x 4yrs                         = $172,000

* Tuition figures were taken from the college’s websites. Note that I rounded up for ease and that the room and board expenses are often estimates since dorm room rates vary depending on single, double and triples or newer buildings typically cost more than older dorms and meal plan selections vary.

Summary Do not rule out private schools due to the sticker price. With further investigation, you might find that it is a better value, as well as there may be an opportunity to be awarded Merit scholarships and greater financial aid packages that are not available at the state school.

Every college is required to provide a Net Price Calculator which helps students and parents learn what the financial aid that might be available to them at that specific college. To utilize the Net Price Calculator, you go to the college website’s financial aid page. You will need to input information from your tax returns, earnings statements (W2 forms, recent paycheck stubs) and bank statements. Go beyond the sticker price and the actual tuition bill may be within your reach.