Updated: Jan 22, 2020
The cost of college has risen 4 times faster over the past 20 years than the cost of living. And, students are taking longer to graduate, amassing more debt, and finding fewer jobs in their career fields than ever. Only 19% of students in public colleges earn a bachelor's degree in 4 years, according to a report from Complete College America, a nonprofit group based in Indianapolis. In fact, many colleges are now estimating "on time" graduation rates using a 6 year average. How much are those extra 2 years costing? According to the report, published in December 2014, on average you can count on $22,826 for every extra year at a public four-year college. That is over $40,000 of your savings, retirement or debt to finance a degree that may or may not pay off.
Judging from these statistics, the report concludes,
"Hands down, our best strategy to make college more affordable and a sure way to boost graduation rates over all is to ensure that many more students graduate on time."
So, the best strategy for saving money on college, is not an athletic scholarship, not a 529 plan, not a relentless scholarship search, but a concrete plan to graduate in 4 years. It can be done, but here is what you need to know in order to make it happen.
In High School Research potential career fields, and corresponding college majors, early. Your freshman year of high school is not too early to start intentionally looking into jobs that interest you. Don't wait until you are paying tuition, or amassing major debt, to give serious thought to your future career. Use your time in high school to job shadow professionals in your field of interest so that you know what the job really looks like on a daily basis. It's easy to think a job "sounds cool ," but talking with someone who actually does the job can show you if it is something you really want to pursue. With 75% of students changing their major at least once, your chances of graduating on time increase exponentially if you choose the right major the first time.
After High School
Get remedial classes out of the way BEFORE you start paying big tuition bills. If you aren't at college level in math, science or English, it would make sense to take a few remedial courses at a local community college before you head off to earn a degree. You will pay a lot less and be able to start college taking true college level classes that count toward a degree.
A full class load is 15 hours. Most programs require 120 hours to complete a bachelor's degree, so taking a course load of 12 hours a semester will leave you 24 credit hours short of a degree. That is 2 more semesters, and approximately $22,000 more. You should also be careful not to fill your schedule with too many "fluff" classes like badminton, underwater basket weaving or walking (yes, I took that one).
The full report from CCA includes 5 game changer strategies many universities are applying to help their students graduate on time. If more states adopt these ideas, it is likely that graduation rates with start to return to a more traditional 4 year plan. But, until that happens, you can take the challenge into your own hands, develop a plan, and save thousands of dollars.