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$120,000 for a Diploma! Why IS College So Darned Expensive and What Can You Do About It?

It's official. Attending college now costs as much as buying a small house (or a large one, depending on where you look). Worse yet, getting a college diploma is, more and more, becoming not a luxury but a necessity for anyone looking to secure a decent job.

Nearly half (42 percent) of four-year college students attend schools that cost $6,000 a year or less.

If you're lucky, that is if your child (or you!) attends a four-year PUBLIC university, you can skate by with owing just under $13,000 a year for tuition, room and board and fees, according to the College Board. If this sounds like a steal, consider that tuition at public schools has increased nearly 50 percent in the last decade alone.

But suppose you or your child wants a "fancy" degree. One from a private school or (gasp) a top school like Stanford or Princeton. You're looking at a price tag of $30,367 a year for tuition, room and board, books and incidentals at the average four-year private college or university -- a 6 percent increase from last year ... and a 30 percent increase from 10 years ago. Those with even bigger aspirations who want to attend a prestigious school can pay upwards of $45,000 a year.

Why is College so Expensive?

There are professors to pay, certainly, and research to be done. Not to mention upkeep on all those grounds and dormitories. But does it really add up to tens of thousands of dollars a year from each student?

Probably not. To be fair, state funding has hit rock bottom for the first time in 30 years, according to The Week magazine, which accounts for part of the public college increases. Private schools are also devoting more money to financial aid, while schools across the board are playing in a competitive market that demands top-notch facilities -- dorms, gyms, student centers, etc. -- just to stay in the game.

Still, colleges and universities are not stupid. They know a degree is a critical component of life, and they know people will pay for it.

"For over a decade I participated in university meetings aimed at determining annual tuition increases," said Peter Wood, an anthropologist at Boston University in The Week magazine. "The only real question was, 'How much can we get away with?'"

Before heading off to school, try to get a scholarship -- for your musical talent, your dedication to teaching in urban areas or your Native American ancestry -- it will bring your tuition costs down significantly!

What you can be certain of is that college tuition is going to continue to increase, as will the demand for college-educated workers in the job force.

How to Go to College and Keep Costs Down

Most people nowadays go to college by going into debt (nearly two-thirds of college graduates owe money toward their schooling). However, there ARE ways to manage the costs of college, and still get a good education:

  • Attend a community college first. Go there for a couple of years, get your basic credits fulfilled (at a bargain price), then transfer into a four-year school to complete your degree. Just be sure you know ahead of time that the credits you earn will, indeed, transfer over to the four-year school.

  • Go to a public university in your own state. Public universities are still much less expensive than private ones, and even more so if you attend one in the state you live in. Some 42 percent of four-year U.S. college students are, in fact, attending schools that cost less than $6,000 a year, according to The Week.

  • Look for scholarships, grants and other "free" money. You can earn a scholarship for academic, athletic or artistic talents, and for many other reasons, like majoring in a certain field of study or belonging to a certain minority group.

  • If you are thinking of joining the military, or already have, they offer several college tuition support programs.

  • Work-study programs. When you apply for financial aid one option other than a loan is a work-study program. The school guarantees you a job for a certain number of hours a week, and you use your earnings to help cover costs.

Now, if you're having second thoughts that college is simply just too expensive, you may want to reconsider. As high as the costs are, college is still a good return on the investment, particularly when you consider that a high school graduate earns under $30,000 a year on average, but a college graduate earns over $51,500 (and over $78,000 with a master's). Of course, money isn't everything, but those who've attended college get more than just a higher income.

"It's an investment," said Susan Dynarski, a Harvard economist in The Week. "People who go to college have better lives."

Recommended Reading

Why Returning to College After Age 30 (Age 40, 50, Etc.) Might Be Just The Right Choice For You

20% of High School and College Students Victims of Being Stalked: What to Do If You're Stalked


The Week Magazine May 11, 2007

The College Board

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