As the run up to the 2016 Presidential election continues, college affordability has taken center stage. Like most Americans, presidential candidates have realized that, though a college degree has become a ticket to at least a middle class lifestyle, the price of that ticket creates a Catch-22 for students.
The result has been an explosion of proposals designed to make college more affordable. These include free community colleges, debt free colleges, better consumer data to drive better consumer choices and more. However, despite all the interest in college affordability, it is almost impossible for a prospective student to know what the price will be for a degree.
How Much Will You Pay for College?
If you are trying to decide which college to attend, it’s almost impossible to know what the price of the complete degree will be. A student can usually find the list price and fees, but will not know the associated textbook and lab costs until after enrollment. Further, a college will often award scholarships to reduce the list price, but only after application. Also, credit transfer information is usually difficult to find or complex to understand. Lastly, students don’t know what federal or state financial aid they will receive until after submitting their FAFSA.
With such little pricing transparency, how can a student hope to lower the price of their degree?
Reduce Your Overall Expense
No matter how opaque the price for a specific college, a student can reduce their overall expense by:
- Using alternative credit pathways to take general education courses; and
- Renting textbooks or buying used.
Whether it’s taking courses from providers like StraighterLine or from a local community college, general education courses are always required at the start of a degree program. Transferring college credit from a low cost provider to a higher priced college can save thousands of dollars at any college that charges by the credit hour. Most colleges will have a chart in their course catalog that details how they accept credits. For StraighterLine’s partner colleges, we’ve done it for you.
When buying required textbooks, check to see if a used option is available. Often, you can search using the ISBN number in the book. There are many online marketplaces for used books. Here’s one. Again, at StraighterLine, we’ve done the work for you. You can buy an e-textbook from us or find a used book elsewhere. Here’s a list of our required books. We deliberately used slightly older editions of textbooks so that there is a vibrant used book market for our texts.
Given all the attention on college affordability, the true price of a college degree will likely be easier to decipher for a prospective student in the next decade. However, if you can’t wait that long, start with the very few guaranteed strategies to reduce the price of your degree.
Burck Smith (@burck) is the CEO and founder of StraighterLine.