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Community Colleges Help Cut Costs

That gravy train from your parents' checkbook-the one that was supposed to see you through four or five years of college or more-has stopped.

Perhaps your folks are tapped out because of financial reverses caused by job losses or investments that went south.
Whatever the reason, they no longer can pay big university bills for tuition, books, and/or room and board.
Well, you don't have to call it quits just yet, according to Mark Rowh, author of "Community College Companion (Jist $14.95), though he admits that even community colleges, where expenses are low compared to four-year institutions may still have some of those same costs.

So how do you cope?

"There is no getting around the fact that attending college-even at the relatively inexpensive rates typical of two-year colleges-costs money. The matter of paying for your education is something that merits both advance planning and an aggressive approach to obtaining the necessary funds. Any creative steps you can take to reduce college costs will certainly be in your best interest," explains Rowh.

In his book, Rowh recommends the following tips for stretching the almighty dollar while attending community college:

1. Apply (or reapply) for federal aid, scholarships or other assistance according to established guidelines. You might be surprised at how often students miss deadlines and end up losing out on scholarship or financial aid renewals. To make sure this does not happen to you, find out deadline dates and give them a prominent place in your planning calendar (including electronic reminders or other "flags" to alert you). Then make sure to submit any required info well in advance of the deadline.

2. Study the tuition and fee structure and identify ways to take advantage of it. For example, your school might charge tuition for only the first 12 credit hours for which a student enrolls in any term, but not for additional credits. Or your school might offer a reduced per-credit rate for courses taken in excess of 12 credit hours.In either case it makes sense-at least from a financial viewpoint-to take additional courses each semester or quarter. If you enroll for six additional credits each semester for four semesters, for example, that's 24 credits you can earn without, in a sense, paying for them. If this keeps you on track or ahead of schedule in completing your program that equates to savings in extra terms you will not need to attend.

3. At the same time, never take a load that is too heavy from an academic viewpoint. Although most students can easily manage 15-16 credits per term-and some can handle 18 or more-work with your advisor to determine the workload that is best for you. Be honest in assessing your own capacity. Don't pursue a heavy load purely for financial reasons; but if you are a good student with a high capacity for taking on academic work, it might be an option worth considering.

4. Choose a short-term program. If you enroll for a program that leads to a one-year certificate instead of a two-year associate degree, you can save a year of tuition and enter the workforce that much faster. This option is a valid one only if the program is something you really want to pursue, of course. If that is the case, this option can make sense, especially if you are hard pressed to come up with the necessary tuition and fees.A tradeoff might be that the jobs you can expect to find pay less than those requiring more advanced credentials, but they can provide a start toward your future career. You can always return to school later and add one or more degrees on top of the certificate, if that becomes a goal.

5. Check with your employer. Some employers offer full or partial reimbursement for tuition and other costs associated with further education.

6. Cut costs on textbooks. It might not be possible to avoid the "sticker shock" college students face when buying textbooks, but you can reduce the hit on your bank account. Where possible buy used copies of books (just make sure they are editions that still meet course requirements). Used books are often available in college bookstores, and although the discounts might be relatively small, the savings are still worth pursuing. Used copies might also be available from other students as well as online or off-campus booksellers. You can also find textbooks at discounted vendors such as Half.com and Amazon.com. Another option is to rent books from sites such as Chegg (www.chegg.com) instead of buying them. Sharing with friends or relatives is another possibility, although it is important to have ready access to any needed books.

7. Consider costs in making other decisions. As you choose classes and make other decisions, keep cost in mind. For example, consider scheduling all your classes on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday sequence or only on Tuesdays and Thursdays to limit commuting expenses. You can also attempt to test out of courses. Avoid changing majors without thinking things through carefully, because that can add to the courses you must take and extend the time you will be in school. When making any academic or career decisions, make sure that the expense involved is part of the information you consider. ###

 

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