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MYTHS AND REALITIES ABOUT PAYING FOR COLLEGE 

 
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Are you overwhelmed when you hear such news headlines as, “College Costs Keep on Rising?” or “Your Parents Better Be Rich If You Want to Go to College?”

Issues surrounding college costs are often slanted in some way, not seen in perspective, or looked at in short-sighted ways. The Coalition of America’s Colleges and Universities addressed the many stories and half-truths in their “College Is Possible” national education campaign. You can disarm the power of these myths by looking at the reality of the situation.

Myth: College tuition costs more than $25,000 a year.

Reality: In 2013-14, average published tuition and fees for in-state students at public four-year colleges range from $7,997 in the South to $11,247 in New England. Average published tuition and fees for public two-year colleges range from $2,350 in the West to $4,694 in New England. While average published tuition and fees at private nonprofit four-year institutions is currently $29,998, after all forms of financial aid, including scholarships, grants, and federal loans are taken into consideration, the net price the average undergraduate pays for a college education is significantly lower than the published tuition and fees. Refer to the Net Price Calculator on the college’s Web site for an estimate of your actual costs.

Myth: Private colleges are always more expensive than public colleges.

Reality: On average, private colleges usually cost more than public institutions, even after aid is deducted; however, there are instances in which a private college is less expensive, after student aid, than a public institution. For example, the cost of a private institution, less student aid, often is less than a public institution outside one’s home state.

Myth: Only the very rich can afford college.

Reality: College is undeniably a major expense, however, students from all socio-economic backgrounds can benefit from the numerous financial aid programs offered by federal and state governments and educational institutions. While federal grant aid is targeted at students from low- and moderate-income backgrounds, state grants reach students from a wider range of family incomes.

Myth: It actually hurts you to save for college because you get less financial aid.

Reality: Those who save will be expected to contribute more toward their children’s education than those who don’t save. However, the formulas for determining the expected family contribution count income far more heavily than savings, so the difference is usually not substantial. Furthermore, a family that saves will have the funds necessary to meet their expected contribution, while a family that does not save may have to borrow - with interest charges more than making up for the smaller expected contribution.

Myth: You really don’t need college to be a success - look at Bill Gates.

Reality: Bill Gates’ story is exceptional. According to the College Board study Trends in College Pricing 2012, in 2011, the $100,096 median income for families headed by a four-year college graduate was more than twice the median income for families headed by a high school graduate. Today, some postsecondary education or training is necessary for almost every good job.

Myth: Only minorities get extra help.

Reality: The majority of student aid is awarded on the basis of financial need. Very little aid is awarded solely on the basis of students’ race or ethnicity. According to a recent survey of financial aid officers, less than 10 percent of institutions’ budgets for non-need-based scholarships go toward scholarships for members of specific minority groups. Generally, students from racial or ethnic minority groups are more likely to receive scholarships because they are more likely to have financial need.

Myth: Only upper-income families know how to pull the strings to get to college.

Reality: Previous experience with higher education rather than socio-economic status is more important in determining who goes to college. The admissions and financial aid process is daunting for many families, but especially for those with no previous college experience. Families can get help from a number of sources. Libraries and high school guidance offices offer resources and assistance. In addition, many communities have a federally funded Educational Opportunity Center with trained counselors to help students and parents through the admissions and financial aid process.

Myth: It’s not what you know when it comes to college and financial aid - it’s who you know.

Reality: It is most important to forge relationships with people who can provide solid information and advice, such as high school guidance counselors and college admissions or financial aid personnel.

Myth: Community colleges offer only vocational education.

Reality: Community colleges provide a wide range of educational options, all at a low cost to students. In addition to career and technical education, community colleges offer the first two years of academic course work to transfer to a four-year institution. They also help workers upgrade their skills and provide courses for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Open admissions, nearby locations, a wide array of courses, flexible class schedules, and low tuition prices make community colleges readily accessible to everyone.

Myth: Colleges charge whatever they want - they’ve got a monopoly.

Reality: Public and private colleges set their tuition in very different ways. Generally, state policy makers set tuition for public institutions. Tuition decisions are driven by the funding colleges receive from the state. When states cut their appropriations for colleges and universities, they have to raise tuition to make up at least part of the resulting budget shortfall. Private colleges set their own tuition, but they operate in a very competitive environment. They have to construct tuition and aid policies that allow them to fill their classes and offer the programs and facilities that will keep them competitive.

Myth: There is no basis for the soaring increase in college prices.

Reality: Many factors influence college cost increases - technology and facility costs, faculty salaries, student aid expenditures, and cuts in state appropriations to name just a few. Despite cutbacks in state appropriations and decreasing endowment values colleges are trying to do even better, searching for new and innovative ways to cut costs and minimize tuition increases. Sources: American Council on Education, College Board, Trends in Education Series, www.collegeboard.com/trends

Sources: American Council on Education, www.acenet.edu. College Board, Trends in Education Series, www.collegeboard.com/trends

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