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College loans: The key to cutting costs? Graduate early

The recession has caused the prices of some goods and services to dip, but college costs continue to slowly creep higher, said Ron Lieber in <em>The New York Times.</em>

The recession has caused the prices of some goods and services to dip, but college costs continue to slowly creep higher, said Ron Lieber in The New York Times. Colleges argue that cutting costs could dilute the quality­ of education, and, to be fair, “the political challenges with faculty make something as seemingly simple and obvious as cutting expensive and undersubscribed academic departments pretty hard.” That may explain why the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities recently reported, “with some pride,” that the average increase in tuition and fees at private schools would be “only” 4.3 percent this year. “Is this where we are supposed to stand up and cheer?”

“Ironically,” one factor that helps drive up college costs is the relatively easy availability of loans, said Anne Marie Chaker in The Wall Street Journal. While the dismal economy leaves many families little choice but to borrow, “loans can give colleges an artificial sense of a family’s ability to pay tuition.” Before the recent downturn, student debt had become so “commonplace” that two-thirds of students took out loans, to the tune of $23,000, on average. Now they’re borrowing even more. Federal student-loan disbursements were 25 percent higher for the 2008–09 academic year than for the previous year, and further double-digit increases are expected this year.

It is possible to keep debt to a minimum, with a little planning and a fair amount of hard work, said Brian O’Connor in The Detroit News. Ideally, this cost-cutting mission would start in high school, where students can earn credits at community colleges as early as 10th grade. “Starting in the junior year of high school and taking just one, four-credit community college class for the fall, spring, and summer semesters would shave almost a full year off a four-year tuition tab.” Kids can also earn additional credits by taking college-level tests, such as Advanced Placement Tests. The “key” is to pick up inexpensive, transferable credits and apply them toward a degree. Unfortunately, “that means no waffling around” about picking a major. At these prices, students need to “pick a direction and stick with it.”

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