Let’s not sugarcoat it — college is expensive. The average cost of a public college education in 2013 averaged $23,000. Double that for a private university. And it gets worse. Students aren’t paying for these annual payments with cash. They’re utilizing student loans, putting them in debt even before they graduate and adding extra pressure to them to choose a proper career choice. Put it all together, America is facing a trillion dollar student loan crisis. And a good portion of those in debt are those who have decided to go back to college after staying away.
We’re talking about folks who put aside their college careers to work, raise families or because they can no longer afford it. Throw in millions of job losses and career readjustments due to the Great Recession, and more people over the age of 34 have returned to college over the last five years. The good news is there are ways for these folks to get a college education without going into more debt than they already have. Here are a few suggestions.
Community college is not like the former NBC show Community. Many of these local colleges offer programs that are equivalent to those you’d find at a local university, minus all of the hefty fees associated with staying and eating on campus. Costs can be cut even further at these locations by taking online courses, which now include online textbooks instead of the very expensive ones you pick up at the bookshop. Depending on the amount of credits, community college courses run somewhere between a few hundred to around $1,000.
Many smaller colleges, especially those at the local level, offer work-study programs. Students take classes but also work in a certain profession in order to make money as well as earn credits. These types of courses tend to be much lower in cost as the student is not on campus at all times.
Take a look at scholarships.com and scan the voluminous list of available scholarships. These aren’t just for students graduating high school. Many of these scholarships are for those who are returning to college or have enough life study to qualify for free money. In some cases a student will receive scholarships and grants if transferring from a community college to university.
This is the good news. The bad news is the student may be tempted by matching student loans to cover the remainder of the costs. Use this money cautiously, and try to stretch the scholarship money out as much as possible. This may mean living off-campus, reducing the meal plan or getting a job to supplement income. For older students with families it’s best to stretch out the credits over a period of time while supplementing with extra income.