Strategies offered to find affordable colleges

Gloria Nye  |  7/10/2008 6:59:47 PM

Back-to-School News Distributed 07/11/08

If your son or daughter will be a junior or senior in high school this fall, you’ll likely start talking about college. You also may be thinking how expensive college is, since cost is a concern for most families, according to LSU AgCenter family economist Dr. Gloria Nye.

Those who have been making deposits to tax-free savings in a college 529 plan since their child was a toddler may be less concerned, but Nye says they still need to shop for the best education deal, just as they would comparison shop for everyday goods.

How do you begin selecting an affordable college? Some students know exactly what field of study they want to major in. For each of them, it is a matter of identifying colleges that specialize in or offer that major emphasis or program at a price the family can pay.

Other students may have no idea what they want to major in. For them, a general education program of introductory classes will help them find their interests. In these situations, the choices of colleges are larger because many colleges offer general studies programs.

As for actual dollar amounts, tuition and fees for 2007-2008 averaged $6,185 at four-year public colleges, according to the College Board, which helps students pick a college. This amount was up 6.6 percent from the previous year, but it was still significantly less than the national average of $23,712 at private, four-year colleges.

If your student has had good grades and scored high on national merit exams, he or she may be recruited and offered an attractive scholarship to attend a specific college. Both public and private colleges offer scholarships as incentives to attract good students.

“Compare scholarship packages when considering costs,” Nye said, explaining that although a $10,000 scholarship for a private college may be attractive, if tuition and fees are $23,000, you still will have to come up with $13,000.

“Always do the math,” Nye said.

The College Board reports that 2007-2008 room and board charges were similar at both public and private colleges – $7,404 for public and $8,595 for private. Costs continue to rise at both.

If the lowest college costs are beyond reach – even for a student who works part time – higher education still may be possible. Community colleges are an alternative. They offer two-year, associate degrees and generally cost less. In addition, their academic credits transfer to public four-year institutions.

“Living at home for the first two years of college before transferring to a four-year college may be the affordable answer for many families,” Nye said.

If your son or daughter finds a preferred program of study at a public college outside your state of residence, although the tuition and fees for that school may be lower than a private college, be aware that your student will be charged extra (out-of-state tuition and fees) as a nonresident of that state.

Nye said states try to offer a program of study in every major topic in at least one of the publicly funded colleges within the state. Some states, however, are not able to afford to offer all majors within their state so they make cooperative agreements with other states that allow their students to attend an out-of-state school without having to pay nonresident tuition.

“If your student’s desired major is not offered in your state, check to see if your state has a cooperative agreement,” Nye advised.

For related family economics and consumer topics, click on the Family and Home link on the LSU AgCenter home page at For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.


On the Internet: LSU AgCenter:
On the Internet: College Board:
Contact: Gloria Nye at (225) 578-1727 or 
Editor: Mark Claesgens at (225) 578-2939 or

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