5 Ways to Make College More Affordable


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — College costs may be increasing, but more American families are finding ways to limit those expenses. In fact, average spending on college this past year was $20,882 – about the same as the amount paid for the past three years, after peaking in 2010 at $24,097. Increasingly turning their backs on student loans, families are paying more out of pocket and borrowing less, as reported by Sallie Mae in "How America Pays for College 2014."

Only 22% of college costs were covered by borrowing last year -- a combined parent and student amount of $4,610 -- the lowest level in five years. Student borrowing (15%) accounted for twice as much of the total as loans taken out by parents (7%). Instead, families are dipping into current income and savings for college expenses, with 42% of the cost covered out of pocket.

Still, 35% of families borrowed something to pay for college.

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Keeping an eye on a budget, more than two-thirds of families made their college choice based on costs. That could be one reason why enrollment in two-year public colleges is at an all-time high.

In-state enrollment is another cost-saver. More than three-quarters (77%) of students are going to school within their home state.

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While tuition and room-and-board are often accounted for, many families are surprised by how fast other expenses add up. Textbooks, for example. Many families (40%) said they didn't expect books to take such a big bite out of their pocketbook. The College Board says students should expect to spend as much as $1,200 a year on books.

Another surprise expense: transportation. Nearly one in five families (17%) found travel expenses were higher than expected. The biggest surprises were commuting costs (55%), car trouble (20%) and parking fees (14%). Sallie Mae's report says parking permits at one large public university next school year will cost somewhere between $109 to $842 -- depending on parking priority and the location.

How are families reducing the cost of college? The most widely reported strategies included:

  • Going to a home-state school for lower tuition (69%)
  • Living closer to home (61%)
  • Living at home or with relatives (54%)
  • Filing for education tax credits (42%)
  • And getting a roommate (41%)

Not only was going to an in-state school the most frequently mentioned way to reduce college expenses, it was also the most popular solution for families who chose just one cost-saving measure.

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet

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