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Don’t Let Cost Dictate Your College Choice

by Mike Sheffey

Choosing your major or school based solely on price is wrong. There are not enough words in the dictionary to describe my disagreement with this logic, but I will try.

First and foremost, college students (and people in general) will fail at things they don’t care about or aren’t excited about. If people choose their school or major based on price, they will likely not be going to the place they want to go or studying what they want to study. That’s not really going to push them to succeed: College costs limit choices and ignores the idea that there are scholarships and other financial aid out there. If you qualify academically for a school, money should not (but unfortunately can) matter.

Another part of this mentality is too much parental control. Guess what, students? You’re adults now. You’re attending college and working on a presence in the real world – don’t let your parents be that invisible hand that pushes you a direction that you don’t want to go. If you choose a major or school they weren’t pushing you to go to, I’m sure your parents will get over it eventually. (If not, too bad: It’s your life.)

If money is the deciding factor, think of this: Your interests are cheapest. Why? Because if you attend school elsewhere or don't major in your preferred field, you won’t be happy and won’t do as well in classes. That could lead to not graduating on time and thus, more money spent. Even if you graduate, give it a few years and you’ll realize that wasn’t what you wanted and going back to school is not cheap. If you follow your interests from the start, you save the money spent on more school or another school. Also, look into the scholarship opportunities you qualify for because I guarantee there are more out there than you think.

My advice? Act on passion and interest, not what others tell you. The minute that money starts steering your life is the minute you risk your future. If you choose a major that you love at a school you love, you won’t regret it.

Mike Sheffey is a senior at Wofford College double majoring in computer science and Spanish. He loves all things music and photography. Mike works for an on-campus sports broadcasting company as well as the music news blog PropertyOfZack.com. He also works with several friends to promote concerts and shows in Greensboro, NC. He hopes to use this blogging position to inform and assist others who are seeking the right college or those currently enrolled in college by providing advice on college life, both in general and specific to Wofford.


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California Gov Signs Bill Allowing Higher Fees for Popular Community College Classes

by Suada Kolovic

If you’re a high school senior and you don’t think a traditional four-year university is for you, attending a community college does have its perks. Whether you’re interested in completing your general courses or testing the waters with a major that you're not absolutely set on, community colleges offer students the luxury of figuring out their educational path for a fraction of the cost...or at least they used to: California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that would allow a handful of community colleges to charge inflated prices for in-demand courses. Let’s say it all together now: Booooooo!

The higher costs – $200 per unit instead of $46 – would only affect the shorter summer and winter sessions. Supporters insist that the pilot program would prevent more students from being shut out of courses they need to graduate but critics said that lower-income students would be denied the opportunity to obtain course credits essential to their educational success. "The state would be shifting the burden for funding access from the state general fund to the backs of students," said Vincent Stewart, the community college system's vice chancellor for governmental relations, after the California Legislature approved the measure. "Creating a pay-to-play fee structure, where students who have greater wealth and means can get on a fast track, is patently unfair."

Even with the rate per unit almost quintupled, the overall cost of studying at a community college is still considerably less when compared to traditional options but is it fair to charge more? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.


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by Emily

Student loans and credit cards make up the two most dangerous, and often difficult to avoid, debt traps for college students.  While some amount of borrowing for college can make life easier for students, too much debt can make life nearly impossible for graduates.  The same goes for credit cards.  Having a card is great for emergencies and your credit rating, but running up a large balance while in college can really hurt, especially for students who were approved during days of easy credit and are now seeing rates soar and credit limits plummet.

However, Congress is working to make things easier for current credit card holders and also to make the choice of whether or not to open a credit account less nerve-wracking for new college students.  Legislation in both the House of Representatives and the Senate seeks to create a "credit card holders' bill of rights," curbing confusing and predatory practices by banks issuing credit cards.  While the bills have received bipartisan support, including a ringing endorsement from President Obama, there is still some concern about possible backlash in the form of even more stringent credit requirements for people who want to open credit card accounts.

Still, picking up a poorly screen printed t-shirt along with a new line of credit with an 18+ percent interest rate is a campus tradition unlikely to be missed by many.  With college students' credit card debt still on the rise as of 2008 and relief from private loans still nowhere in sight, any new consumer debt protection will likely be welcomed by many college students and recent graduates.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The Federal Reserve Board proposed new regulations last week that would prohibit creditors from issuing credit cards to anyone under 21 without the consent of that applicant's parent or guardian, or proof that the consumer would be able to make the required payments on their own. Those rules would amend some of the provisions in the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, a bill passed by Congress last May that, among other things, would hinder credit card companies from getting college students to sign up for offers at on-campus booths.

You know you've seen it before - the free T-shirt that you probably wouldn't wear, but was appealing anyway because it was free. All you had to do was sign up for a credit card. An article in The Chronicle for Higher Education when the bill was first moving through Congress described college students as the most targeted population when it comes to new customers for credit card companies.

Critics of the bill then said that college students, who take on a slew of new responsibilities once they get on campus, should be treated as adults. And during a time when students are more apt to use credit cards to pay for college expenses, they shouldn't meet obstacles when using their credit cards for college expenses. According to a recent survey by student lender Sallie Mae, 84 percent of undergraduates have at least one credit card; 92 percent of those undergraduates use the cards toward college expenses. College students' average balances are more than $3,100.

So what's the bigger problem? Having access to credit to pay for college expenses, or preventing college students from accruing large sums of debt?

Credit cards should be used as the last line of defense, and ideally for emergencies only. There are many options out there for you to find money for college that have nothing to do with being faced with high interest rates and exorbitant fees. Do your research to apply for college scholarships and grants that would result in free money to cover your college expenses. Consider a part-time job on campus if you have the time and can balance work and college. And while not as desirable, investigate low-interest student loans to supplement your financial aid package.

If you need to use credit, make sure you're keeping within a manageable budget, and only charging as much as you'd be able to realistically pay off at the end of the month. The decisions you make now will matter post-graduation, and any decision involving opening a new line of credit should be approached with caution. Stick to one card if you need one, and if you find yourself in debt, pay off as much as you're able to each month until you're done. (Don't be using that card while you're trying to pay it off, though.) Browse through our site to see more tips on budgeting, how you can avoid mounds of credit card debt, and how to keep your credit card score healthy.

The new regulations would go into effect after Feb. 2010, but the public, credit card industry and others will have a chance to voice their opinions beforehand. Other rules proposed by the Board included:

  • Limiting high fees associated with subprime credit cards.
  • Prohibiting increases in a credit card interest rate during the first year after an account is opened, and increases in a rate that applies to an existing credit card balance.
  • Requiring creditors to obtain consumers' consents before charging fees for transactions that exceed their credit limits.


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Most Expensive College Dorms

November 5, 2009

by Emily

Tuition and fees aren't the only college costs families are finding hard to swallow these days. Room and board is also on the rise--now nearing $16,000 a year at some colleges. A survey of the most expensive college dorms found that students attending The New School's Eugene Lang College in New York City can expect to pay more than any other college students in the nation for standard-option housing and a meal plan, at $15,990 per year.

Rounding out the top five were Cooper Union in New York City, at $15,275; Suffolk University in Boston, at $14,544; the University of California at Berkeley, at $14,384; and the New York Institute of Technology at Manhattan, at $14,290. By contrast, the average college room and board costs for 2009-2010 were $8,193 at public four-year schools and $9,363 for private colleges. Students who want extras can expect to pay a lot more--to get an idea of how much, check out the New York Times' run-through of a few of the swankiest college living arrangements that have debuted recently on three campuses.

The list of the top 20 was largely dominated by schools in cities with high costs of living, where housing costs of $12,000 to $16,000 per year might not seem all that unreasonable. However, when you consider the fact that these costs are for a standard double room without any extravagant extras, students may still want to see if they can get a better deal living off-campus. It's possible to pay a comparable price to on-campus room and board for your own bedroom in many locations, and considering college students' general ingenuity when it comes to apartment penny-pinching and packing people into houses and apartments, living off-campus could very well be a cheaper option than the dorms, regardless of where you attend college.

However, living off-campus isn't always the best or cheapest option, even if the hefty price tag for a shared room and mediocre dorm food offends your sensibilities. Before you decide where to live (if you're given that option--some colleges require students to live on-campus all four years), come up with a sample budget, taking into account realistic costs for housing, food, maintenance, and commuting to and from campus. For example, don't budget for walking 20 blocks each way in the winter or eating nothing but ramen and leftover cookies you snag from your department's faculty meetings, unless that's really how you intend to live. Think about what you're giving up, as well--easy trips to class, free cleaning services, and a close sense of campus community. If you're not saving much by living off-campus, perhaps those things will encourage you to stay.


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by Agnes Jasinski

You don't need to work retail or deliver pizzas to make money in college. Many on-campus opportunities have the potential to act as good resume-builders and keep you interested in the task at hand while providing you with a (modest) wage. They don't all have to be federal work study positions, either, although it does work in your favor if you have some financial need when applying for campus jobs, and some will bump up your hourly wage if you can boast some experience in that field.

And now the not so good news. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education looks at student pay at the more unique campus jobs across the country. Not to scare you away from working through college at an on-campus job, but according to one example in that article, a student office assistant making $7.25/hour in the chemistry department at the University of Notre Dame would have to work 135 hours a week and 50 weeks of the year to cover tuition, room, and board. These wages will probably compare to most off-campus jobs you find near your college as well, however, so you may as well investigate all of your job options. Even if you'd be making more elsewhere, it may be worth the convenience and experience to work on campus.

Some examples of hourly wages at on-campus jobs:

It probably won't allow you to retire early, but an on-campus job could help you make ends meet and pay for some of those expenses that seem to crop up out of nowhere while you're pursuing that college degree. Balancing work and college certainly has its advantages - you're able to potentially lessen that student loan debt, build up your resume and learn the value of time management and responsibility - but it can be difficult, especially if you're a freshman being bombarded by all your campus has to offer. Browse through our site for tips on how to land and keep a job and keep your academics in line if your financial need means working your way through college.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Pittsburgh has dropped a proposal to enact a tax on college students as a way to raise revenue for the city following several weeks of criticism from not only students but the higher education community. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced yesterday that the city would instead focus on a "leap of faith," urging local colleges, nonprofits, and the business community to increase voluntary donations.

At a press conference Monday, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University both pledged to offer larger donations to the city than they had in previous years. Local insurer Highmark also pledged support. About 100 tax-exempt organizations gave a total of $14 million to the city between 2005 and 2007. The 1 percent tuition tax, described as the “Post Secondary Education Privilege Tax” or Fair Share Tax,” would have raised $16 million for the city to cover things like city employees’ pension funds and costs associated with the public library system until the city is able to get a handle on its budget problems. This "voluntary" agreement with the city's institutions only covers the upcoming fiscal year, however, so whether the city would ever revisit a student tax is unclear. The mayor also failed to say how much money would be offered voluntarily, as those deals have not yet been finalized.

The mayor also said he would target the state for more funding to solve the city's budget problems. A new group, the New Pittsburgh Collaborative, will come up with a list of things to ask the state for when the time comes, according to an article today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Previous talks have focused on raising taxes for those who in the city and expanding a tax on currently tax-exempt employees' payrolls, two proposals that would also not be met without resistance.

The fallout from the proposal was immediate. About 100 students came to a Pittsburgh City Council meeting recently to protest the measure, calling the idea "Taxation Without Representation" and a double tax on those students already paying taxes on things like sales items and property. An article in Inside Higher Ed today suggests other institutions of higher education were anticipating the outcome of the student tax to determine whether this could be an option in their cities. Some municipalities without strong support from outside organizations and voluntary contributions from their local colleges and universities may look to pass similar measures anyway, especially if those local economies fail to improve.


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by Emily

It’s no secret that the last couple years have been hard for higher education. The recession took a toll on colleges and students from a number of directions, and now a new study is analyzing the impact of state budget woes on public colleges and universities. The figures released this week in Grapevine, a publication focusing on state higher education support, show a continued decline in state funding for higher education and an accompany analysis suggests the funding cuts could have serious negative consequences for students at state colleges.

Overall, state higher education funding has declined 1.1 percent in 2009-2010, following a 1.7 percent decline in 2008-2009, down to $79.4 billion from a high of $80.7 billion in 2008. The declines represent a sharp reverse from the previous three years, which saw a 24 percent increase in state support for higher education. Without federal stimulus funding, a substantial part of which went to higher education, budget cuts would have been even more severe, with a 6.8 percent decline in funding over the course of two years.

Despite the stimulus, some states still made substantial cuts to higher education. While higher education funding reductions in California, Michigan, and Illinois have received the most press, these states were not alone in substantially reducing money spent on colleges. Even after the stimulus, 11 states still posted a decline of more than 5 percent in higher education funding in the last year, with Vermont seeing the steepest drop at 16.4 percent. Overall, 28 states experienced declines in funding after the stimulus, with 37 states reducing funding before stimulus dollars are factored in. Nine states also have shown a reduction in education spending that's severe or sustained enough to register as a decline over the last 5 years.

Other states have managed to increase higher education funding, however. Montana and North Dakota boasted the highest increases at 23.3 and 18.5 percent respectively, with revenue from energy helping to spare them from the dire budget situations most other states faced this year. Similarly, Texas increased education funding by 12.5 percent, even with a much larger population and overall budget.  North Dakota also registered the highest 5-year increase in education spending at 49.3%.

States’ higher education funding choices can have long-term consequences. A report issued last year by the State Higher Education Executive Officers (who also co-sponsored this study) shows that state cuts to higher education made during recessions tend to become permanent. So, while state university systems have more or less managed to weather this year’s cuts, they may not do so well in the future as a lack of adequate funding persists. The study published this week underscores this risk, giving three reasons the current budget trends could potentially reach what the authors term “crisis proportions.”

First, more than 5 percent of the current year’s state appropriations are from stimulus funds, which are exhausted after this year. Second, state revenues have fallen at an unprecedented rate and states are unlikely to quickly make up the difference in the coming years. Finally, the analysis casts doubt on whether schools are able to fully meet student demand, with enrollment caps, course cancellations, and higher tuition all serving as budget-driven barriers to enrollment. In short, state colleges may already be in danger of failing at their mission of educating their state’s students, and the situation is likely to only get worse in the coming years.

While these statistics are a bit dry and may at first seem like primarily a cause for concern among college administrators, they can have a direct effect on your college experience. If you choose to enroll at a state university, the state’s higher education spending has a direct impact on your tuition, your financial aid, and the quality of your college experience. Continued state budget troubles may make currently attractive universities less of a bargain, while increased state spending might help schools in out-of-the-way places like North Dakota flourish and provide better service to their students.


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by Emily

Immediately on the heels of an announcement that President Obama would be calling for additional assistance to college graduates struggling to repay student loans, the administration also unveiled a proposal to hold federal discretionary spending to current levels for the next three years, a move that could potentially have serious implications for colleges and students.

Currently, most federal education spending, including student financial aid, is discretionary, not mandatory, so it would fall under the umbrella of the budget freeze. This makes it possible that students will see limited increases to federal grants, work-study, and subsidized student loans in the coming years. The White House has pledged to make education a funding priority, but with states and colleges also struggling financially, it’s quite possible that financial aid programs will see an end to the boost in financial support they’ve received in the last few years.

It’s possible one federal aid program, at least, may be spared from the budget freeze. Last year, President Obama proposed making the Pell Grant an entitlement, putting it in the category of Medicare and other programs that would be exempt from the budget freeze, but the bill to do so still has not passed the Senate. If the bill passes, Pell funding will be mandatory and increases in Pell Grants will be tied to inflation, guaranteeing students a small, but steady, increase in available aid. If not, it’s up to Congress to allocate limited resources for any increases in grant amounts, and with increases in the numbers of college attendees, applications for financial aid, and Pell Grant recipients, it may be all Congress can do to hold funding levels steady for the next three years.

As details of federal and state budgets emerge, and emergency legislation that temporarily boosted funding to schools and student aid begins to be revisited and possibly phased out, exact changes to college funding will become clearer. Already, though, many families are finding paying for college increasingly challenging, even with the aid of college scholarships and grants. There’s a possibility that a federal budget freeze could mean that students in the next few years will see a situation similar to the one that faced students at the start of the last decade, where tuition increased rapidly while federal aid held steady and more and more students came to rely on private student loans.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Has the week been feeling a little long lately? Can Friday never come soon enough? If you're at the University of Montana, you could be in luck. In response to continued economic troubles and predicted shortfalls in state and federal revenue, the university's president announced this week that the school could benefit from a four-day work week that would reduce operating costs and address their budget woes.

The measure would make faculty and students' days longer, and professors would still make the same salaries. Faculty and staff had mixed feelings about the idea - Does this mean more cutbacks in the future? Are jobs on the line here? - but students have found few negatives to bring up. It'd mean every weekend was a three-day weekend, and for the green among them, a reduced carbon footprint since there would be fewer commuters on that day off and less energy expended to run the school. Others think it could allow them to pick up more hours at on-campus and off-campus jobs to help cover those college costs. Students who have expressed concerns worry that this may mean it takes them longer to graduate. Programs with rigorous curriculums, like law and pharmacy, may have trouble fitting in all of their required instruction into a shortened week.

According to the Western Montana newspaper "The Missoulian," the change would involve the following: The University would be open Tuesday-Friday, to account for the many activities that happen on Fridays. Classes would run at 90 minutes, which already happens campus-wide on Tuesdays and Thursdays. More classes would be offered early in the morning and late in the evenings, meaning more 8 a.m. classes for students. Faculty and staff would work 10-hour days. Administrators think the change would save the college about $450,000 each year, or about 15 percent of the university's overall budget to heat and light buildings. The earliest a shortened week would take effect is July 2010.

Some community colleges already operate in a similar fashion. The unusual thing here is that the University of Montana is a research institution, where arguably more time on campus is needed by those who are there for the school's research capabilities. Administrators say they have a few things to iron out before discussing the idea further, including whether the school's library and University Center would remain open on Mondays.

What do you think? What are your pros and cons of a short week? Should other schools consider it to save some money or recoup some funding for their budgets? Let us know what you think.


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