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Ways to offset skyrocketing tuition

By John W. Kennedy

Paying for a college education can be daunting. Few families, even those that have been putting aside funds since the birth of a child, are able to sign a check for the entire four years of study, which now tops $120,000 at a private institution.

The bad news is college tuition has virtually tripled in the past 20 years, frequently outpacing the inflation rate, and there’s no end in sight. The College Board reports the average yearly tuition, fees, and room and board charges at four-year schools totals $30,367; for public universities it’s $12,796.

The good news is there are multiple ways to bridge the gap between that cost and what is extracted directly out of your pocket. These fall under three primary means to help you meet college costs: aid from the government, money from the school and outside scholarships.

Federal government resources include free scholarship grants plus loans that must be repaid.

First-year students who take out the maximum student loans available and keep the pattern going for four years will find themselves saddled with credit woes upon graduation, according to Thomas A. Shaw, author of College Bound: What Parents Need to Know About Helping Their Kids Choose a College.

“Student loans should be a last resort rather than a first consideration,” Shaw says.

Mary Hunt, author of Debt-Proof Living: The Complete Guide to Living Financially Free, goes further, saying college debt has the potential to destroy a person financially.

According to the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities — which includes six endorsed Assemblies of God schools — the average student receiving a diploma faces $19,922 in school loan debt upon graduating. That translates into a $280 monthly payment for the next decade, with $9,000 of the total covering interest.

“If you’re buying a house or a car, it can be an expensive period,” says Shaw, who has four teenagers, the oldest of which will start college in the fall.

Hunt notes college loans are a form of unsecured debt that must be repaid. Even those filing for bankruptcy can’t get out of paying back every student loan dollar.

There are a variety of ways to reduce the tuition bill besides loans.

Most Christian colleges and universities award merit scholarships on factors such as academic performance, financial need, musical ability, church involvement, denominational affiliation, athletic ability and being the child of an alumnus. Many also reward students based on where they live, ethnic heritage, if they have been homeschooled or if they are the second or third child in the family to attend the school.

Some AG churches provide a matching grant for congregant students who attend AG schools. There also are foundations, corporations and civil organizations that offer scholarships.

“All of these scholarship dollars represent that much less your family has to contribute toward the bill,” Shaw says.

Shaw contends it’s up to parents to keep at a minimum the indebtedness of their children — who are their greatest investment. He encourages parents to delay vacations, home purchases and car buying, instead sending the saved funds to the educational institution.

Hunt says students may need to sit out a year or two rather than incur debt. She suggests students live at home to save money rather than going into debt to pay for room and board in a dormitory or the related costs of renting an apartment.

Those who persevere and finally wind up with that sheepskin find out it’s worth it. The College Board estimates college graduates on average earn $1 million more than high school graduates over the lifetime of their careers.

E-mail your comments to tpe@ag.org.

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