6 Smart Ways to Make College More Affordable

Two representatives from Washtenaw Community College offer money-saving tips and advice for college-bound students and their parents.

Can you afford to go to college? It’s a question students ask as they plan what’s next after high school. Yes, college is expensive, but in the long run, it’s not nearly as costly as the lack of an education.

Fortunately, there are ways to make college more affordable. With a little effort and careful planning, students can find a path to higher education for less cost. Here are six ways to make it happen.

1. Start with a plan, and factor in every penny.

Colleges and universities must provide price tag transparency, but unforeseen costs can threaten to derail even the most driven students. Create a plan that takes everything into account. “Plan holistically, and think about how you need to spend your time and money to get done with college faster and start putting your degree to work,” says Dr. Kimberly Hurns, vice president of instruction at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor.

2. Reap the benefits of your local community college.

Annual tuition at WCC is $2,280, about $8,000 less than a public four-year university in Michigan, says Linda Blakey, vice president of student and academic services. Some articulation agreements allow students to transfer after three years, rather than two, saving the student even more. “Students who transfer from a community college with an associate degree to a four-year university are more likely to graduate than those who start at a four-year institution,” says Blakey.

3. Arrive on campus with credit already earned.

Research shows that students who take at least one college class while still in high school are more likely to attend and graduate from college, Blakey says. Research what partnerships exist between your high school and community college for dual enrollment, career and technical education, and early/middle college programs. “The tuition is paid by the school and students can earn up to an associate degree or 30 credits. That’s a year or more of college paid for by the district,” Blakey says.

4. Value scholarships, even small ones.

Do the easy stuff, like completing FAFSA and other aid forms on time. Talk with your school’s financial aid department. Apply for everything you quality for. “Savvy students can find scholarship money,” Hurns says. “It’s not always the tuition that stops them from finishing. It’s the other stuff. Do you have wraparound support services through the college? Can you access a college emergency fund if necessary? Our students find that the scholarships they secure allow them to work fewer hours at their jobs so they can focus on classes and get done more quickly.”

5. Save thousands on textbook costs.

Truth: books are expensive. “In health care and science majors, students can spend $800 to $1,200 each semester on textbooks,” Hurns says. At WCC, this expense is declining with open education resources, also known as OER. “Faculty consortia have put their knowledge together and made these resources available online and free,” Blakey says. The program is gaining steam, and has saved students about $1 million since it began. Where OERs don’t yet exist, students can often rent books for a fraction of the cost of purchase.

6. Set yourself a goal to graduate on time.

The longer you are there, the more it costs. Be one of the students who graduates on time and save money in extra tuition. When you factor in lost time you could be earning money in the workforce, finishing on time is a no brainer.

Find out more about Washtenaw Community College at wccnet.edu.

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