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Cutting College Expense
Cutting College Expense

Tips for Cutting College Expense
A Help Article by the CHOC Board

If God is calling your student to college, there are a lot of ways to cut college expense and not go into debt.

CLEP your way to credits.    CLEP is one of the best ways to get college credit cheaply.  Currently (August 2016), a CLEP test costs about $90.  Most testing centers charge an additional $15 to $20 administrative fee for administering the test. 

Always check with the desired college to see which CLEP tests the college will accept and what courses the tests will replace. Most colleges have a CLEP equivalency chart posted on their website, or ask the admissions counselor. Most CLEP tests award a minimum of 3 college credits. Many tests award as much as 6 college credits, depending upon the college accepting them.  Some colleges even assign a grade dependant upon the CLEP score. What is considered a passing score varies with each college, but many consider 50 the standard passing score.

So let's do some math.  Currently, Portland Community College charges approximately $80 per credit.  Most Oregon state colleges charge around $150 to $200 a credit.  Private colleges may charge anywhere from $450 to $800 a credit.  One college class is typically worth 3 to 4 credits. So you could CLEP out of a lot of those general requirements and save a lot of dollars.  Often as much as one year's worth of college can be gained at pennies on the credit dollar. Again, check with the accepting college's rules about how much CLEP they allow towards a degree.

Be aware that the CLEP's are all secular exams which will require some "politically correct" answers; however, many prefer focused individual study to CLEP those courses over sitting through a semester course of politically correct material.

Many agree that the easiest CLEP to take first is the "Analyzing and Interpreting Literature" test.  (80 multiple choice questions on essentially a reading comprehension exam of literature excerpts).  American History I and II, Western Civilization I and II, American Government, Psychology and Intro to Sociology are also considered by most the easier CLEP exams. 

This doesn't mean a student should expect to walk into the CLEP test without prior preparation.  The tests are not that easy for most students.  If a student fails a CLEP test, the student must wait 6 months before taking that same subject test again (because CLEP cycles out their tests every 6 months).

CLEP preparations we can recommend, or friends we know recommend, are:

  • Speedy Prep

  • Hillsdale College offers free online courses on the Constitution and US Hisotry which provide excellent CLEP preparation for those exams.
Be careful in simply "Googling" CLEP prep and offering up your dollars.  There are numerous CLEP scams by companies who offer big promises and poor materials.

To find testing sites in your area, go to the College Board CLEP test centers page.  Some CLEP testing sites we can recommend locally are the University of Phoenix Hillsboro Campus (contact the main U of P number for transfer),  George Fox University,   Portland State University and Multnomah University.  All CLEP tests require pre-registration so contact the testing center before showing up (George Fox has an online registration).  Some of the centers offer regular test dates, other limited test dates, Multnomah University is by special appointment only as they have limited testing facilities.

 

Advance Placement often equals free credit  An even better return on the dollar is Advance Placement if it means your student gets to skip over those classes and shorten his college time overall (rather than having to still take the college's "x" number of total credits to graduate).

Check with the accepting college to see what they accept for Advance Placement.  Some require the AP exam.  Many Community Colleges, like Portland Community College (PCC), require all new students to take Placement Tests that literally place a student at a starting point in the program (usually for the math and writing classes).  If the student performs well on the placement, he or she can skip the lower classes required in the program and start at the upper level courses saving time and dollars. 

Most community colleges offer new students their placement test for free (PCC currently does) or for a small fee.  This means FREE credits for those skipped courses.   

Please see our "Advance Placement and College Credits by Exam" section for more information about these tests and the College Board website.

 

Scholarships and Financial Aid  A popular way to reduce college expense is through scholarships and financial aid.  Obviously understand the type of scholarship or finanical aid offered-- loans must be repaid but stipends and grants do not. Scholarships may require certain criteria to be met. A full discussion of financial aid as part of the college application process is provided on our From Home High To College page.

In short summary here, pick up the financial aid package from the college when you pick up the admissions paperwork (we recommend doing that during the high school junior year and rechecking early in the senior year).  Most financial aid and even private scholarships require the FAFSA to be filed, and that should be filed as early as possible after January 1st for the next school year as federal dollars are first come/first served and are gone early.  Most college finanical aid deadlines are late February or March.

Numerous scholarships can be applied for in the junior year of high school, or earlier. Begin with local scholarships generally offered by the organizations your family or student is a member of (4H, FFA, Job's Daughters, Railroad workers, dad's employer, your church, etc.) then progress to the state and national ones which are harder to get but not impossible. 

Several good organizations that can help you locate these state and national scholarships are: Oregon's Student Assistance Commission; Fastweb; Broke Scholar; Fund for Theological Education, and Student Aid   Other scholarship sites are:

http://www.college-scholarships.com/free_scholarship_searches.htm
http://www.online-degrees-and-scholarships.com

Watch scholarship deadlines carefully, and be very carefull to fill out all forms and supply all paperwork.

Finally, be wary of scholarship scams. If you are told that: a scholarship broker wants money to find you a scholarship, or guarantees they will get you a scholarship, or they claim you can't get the information elsewhere, or they ask for your credit card number or bank account to hold the scholarship, or they tell you they'll do ALL the work, or you've been selected by a national foundation or contest that you never applied for or entered... IT IS A FRAUD. 

 

Stay at Home and Commute  Don't be too quick to leave the home nest to join the on-campus college scene. Currently, room and board averages another $5000 to $12,000 per year on top of yearly tuition and books.  Even with the purchase of a used commuter car (often around $4000 to $5000), paying gas, and insurance, the average student will be many dollars ahead by staying at home and commuting to a local college if that is possible. 

Another advantage is the familiar spiritual support network remains in place...something that can be a great advantage as a student wrestles with young adult issues and college pressures.

 

Consider Local Community College or In-State Public Institutions  Community college and state college or university tuition rates are much cheaper than private college rates, if generous scholarships were not awarded by the private college.

Currently (in 2010), Portland Community College is $76 per credit for resident students (compare that to $206 for out of resident attending PCC), Oregon state colleges average $150 per credit, while Oregon private colleges range between $450 to $800 per credit and up. That is because the public institution receives state subsidization for students who meet the residency requirements.  (Your tax dollars at work.)

Community college can make the first two years of college about half the expense of going to a state college for four years....substantially more for private college.  Always check with the four-year institution for transferability of community college courses.  Some programs are more difficult to transfer into from a community college because the college gives preference to those students who took their freshman and sophomore prep years at the institution (medical fields especially).

Out-of-state or private college may sound exciting, but do the math first.  An out of state public institution will charge thousands more for out-of-state students. Compare the in-state college costs with the private college or out-of-state package. You may be surprised at the savings that can be realized.

Of course the negative is that state institutions will be secular and often very immoral (however many expensive private colleges are too).  It is necessary to factor in the college atmosphere and the student's temperament into the equation. However, if your student must go to a state institution, staying at home and commuting can do much to alleviate the on-campus pressures and less than positive teaching.


High School Dual Enrollment Programs  Some local school districts allow a dual enrollment for high school and community college at public expense.  In a dual enrollment program, the last two years of public high school can be taken through the Portland Community College system providing the student with both a public high school diploma and an associates degree of general studies (if college level courses are taken}.  The availability and terms of dual enrollment differ from district to district and from year to year, so you will have to contact your school district and the local high school directly.

Dual Enrollment requires matriculation into public high school and requires full time attendance, so it means the end of homeschool.  While it can be a good method to start chipping away at college while also knocking off high school subjects for some students, it is not for every child or family, and we at the CHOC Board remain wary for a number of reasons.

Taking public high school through college courses is not only no longer homeschooling, it could potentially truncate your child's growing years by putting them into adult college at too young an age before the teen has matured enough to handle the adult pressures. College courses are taught at adult level with adult themed secular materials--even more so than the public high school material. And be aware that the college will not be eager for you to advocate for your child as they will expect your child to interact as an adult. Often the college will not even share information with the parent willingly. 

If you do decide to enroll your child in a community college class (or other institutional class), we recommend researching teachers at the website RateMyTeachers.com

  

Early College Admission Programs for High Schoolers  A number of colleges offer an "early admission" program for high school juniors and seniors.  These early admission students can take college courses at greatly reduced rates. 

There are some "fine print" catches though.  Generally only a limited number of class hours are allowed for selected courses, and often the college only awards college credit if the student continues at that institution for the college years.  If the credits are transferrable to other institutions, the college will likely charge the full tuition price for those transferred credits.

You will generally have to call the admissions office for information about any early admission programs offered to high school students as colleges tend to bury that information in their websites.

George Fox University in Newberg provides an Early Admission of High School Students program at $50 a credit, with no additional price charged if the student goes on to George Fox for college.  See their website for the details of their Early Admission program.

  

On-Line Classes or Degrees  Many colleges offer on-line courses and even full degrees at a significant discount since they do not have to provide "brick and mortar" expense to offer the class. However not all on-line classes are cheaper... sometimes they are more expensive. 

Obviously carefully research the on-line course or college and the effectiveness of an online degree in the chosen field. While disparaged by some, online degrees are becoming more and more accepted as concepts of what constitutes an education change in our society.  

Two online colleges that friends have used successfully are Thomas Edison State College and Baker College. (Intel accepted an Electrical Engineering degree earned from Baker College Online, and later the student went on to work for Hewlitt Packard.)

A recent entrant into the online degree is University of the People, a venture by Micosoft, which provides free 4 year degrees in business and technical degrees. The student merely pays for the proctoring of their tests. A 4 year degree can be reduced to about $4,000. Note that the degree is not accredited to date, nor does the college take transfer credit, so all students begin at ground zero, but if you would like a college degree from top notch instructors, this could be an option.

A resource site listing numerous online colleges is http://www.online-degrees-and-scholarships.com. Also Degree.net, which was established by John Bear, the author for over 30 years of Bear's Guides to Long Distance Learning before his death (look at your local libary for a copy of the guide, the last of which was written in 2006).  Degree.net provides listings of reputable long distance colleges and articles that instruct you how to know if you've stumbled onto an irreputable diploma mill.

Sources of Free College Credit and Continuing Education Courses provides additional listing of organizations that offer free, non-credit, online classes a number of which either prepare the student for the CLEP or offer exam credit.

 

Get a part-time job  This option is so obvious that it is often overlooked or under-estimated at its effectiveness. Start early and save steadily.  If you can work during the school year, often businesses can increase work hours in the summer saving a lot of lost time looking for a summer job, of which can be difficult to find.  

However be realistic with your time and energy. Burn out and low grades can take their toll, and many students never finish school if the job requires too much effort and time.

 

Go Army, Navy, Air Force, or National Guard  Yes, it is true, many students have funded their college education by first joining the armed services. But be sure you understand exactly what will be required of you and that you really want to go this direction. 

While being instructed on how to discharge a firearm, one woman seeking funds for a nursing degree woke up to the fact that while the armed service was going to pay for her degree, it was also capable of sending her anywhere they wanted and requiring her to do anything they wanted.  

Also, you may have to wait to receive those promised dollars as the government is not always speedy in getting them to you. (One student repeatedly had to sit out a term as the monies were late in coming).  Investigate the ROTC as scholarships can be gained in that direction as well.


Avoiding the Textbook Money Pit
   It will take early action to avoid spending top (and mucho inflated) dollars on required textbooks at the campus bookstore. Sometimes that is not possible, and you simply have to pay the campus price, but a little forethought and effort can save you a lot of money. This can make a huge difference as the price of textbooks for a term can be as much as $500 to $700!

Plan to purchase your textbooks as soon as the professor announces the syllabus, if possible (syllabi are usually listed online through the course sign up system or professor webpage).  If the textbooks are not listed online, either through the professor syllabus or through the campus bookstore website, you may have to contact the campus bookstore in person to find out what books will be used for a course.  Warning,  college bookstores are resistant to do this over the phone as they know you are looking to go elsewhere to buy them cheaper; it's better to go in person and browse for those books in the campus store. (If you have a smart phone, browse and comparison shop at the same time!) Unfortunately many campus stores don't announce the textbooks until about 2 weeks before classes start, so you'll have to work fast if you're comparison shopping.

When scoping out your books, always be sure to get the title, author, and the ISBN of the textbook so you can be sure to acquire the correct edition -- publishers vary books from year to year, even term to term, to secure a steady stream of dollars. Sometimes back editions work, but be sure you know if there are any significant changes before you attempt an older edition.

Find out when the campus bookstore has buy-back days and will provide those used books for sale. (Usually about 2 weeks before the start of classes.)  Used prices will be about 2/3 of new prices at the college bookstore, if the bookstore is generous (many aren't.)  Usually the used books are simply put out on the shelves with the new books just before term starts...and the used books go within hours of the first day the campus store has them. Be aware many campus bookstores will refuse to buy back books not purchased through their store. (But if you can buy them elsewhere cheaper and get more dollars back elsewhere...do you care?)

There are a number of places to look for textbooks other than the campus bookstore used sale day. If it is a non-essential (recommended but not required) book, the campus library will often have a copy.  Also check your local community library and look into inter-library loan programs.  Be aware you will be in competition with all the other students who have figured out free is a good thing. But that can also be a benefit, figure out who else on campus has what and pass textbooks back and forth -- if they are trustworthy.

For additional locations to hunt for textbooks cheaply, try http://Textbooks.com,   http://Half.com,   http://Borders.com, http://Amazon.com, and http://Textbooksrus.com.  Compare these prices to the campus bookstore used/new prices. If you can  get your order in early enough to avoid fast delivery costs, the savings can be substantial. (Again be sure you are getting the current edition and not an older cheaper edition.)  Many of these companies will purchase your textbooks back at prices that far exceed the campus bookstore buy-back program.  Borders has a local pick up policy and often can ship to your local store within a couple of days.  If you study neatly...treat your books kindly and don't mark in them...you can get top resell dollars which can do a lot to offset purchase of the next set of books.

UPDATED!  If you really know you don't want to ever keep the book, you can actually rent, yes RENT your textbook for a term or semester or year.  Two recommended sites are Chegg and Cengage Brain. Cengage Brain's site also provides a web forum for students who are using your textbook and other study guides. Shipping is often free for both coming and going. Be aware that the rental agreement includes keeping your credit card on file in case you damage the book or don't return it (just like movie rental companies).  Read rental agreement terms very carefully because they often include returning the textbook in the same individual box and require using their prepaid label.  So don't toss the box when you get the book. You can save up to 2/3 off the price of the textbook new, which can even buying used and getting pennies on the dollar for buy-back at the campus bookstore. (My son's C++ textbook went from $138 new, to $103.50 campus used, to $46 rental price. Wow!)

 

Further Resources  These further resources have been highly recommended by those we know in learning more ways to help cut college expenses:

  • College Plus. An agency which, for a fee (about $3,000 on the average), counsels, encourages, oversees and walks a student through preparing for CLEP exams and finding online coursework that applies to their desired degree, usually saving thousands for a four-year degree.
  • Mark Lengel, College Financial Consultant.  Mr. Lengel offers inexpensive web workshops on funding college without going broke as well as a free monthly newsletter.  He also provides personalized consultation for those who desire more in depth personal advice. You can contact him at marklengel@nwtrx.com.

 

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