One of the biggest challenges for both traditional and online colleges is how to manage the rising tuition costs. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, over the past 25 years, average college tuition and fees have risen by 440 percent, which is more than four times the rate of inflation and almost twice the rate of medical care (Cronin & Horton, 2009).
As the Director of Financial Aid at my previous campus, our biggest challenge was helping students get certified to receive enough federal financial aid funding to cover the cost of tuition and books. For example, Congress has raised the Pell Grant limits from $4,731 to $5,550 a year by scrubbing the federal loan programs of bank subsidies thought to be excessive; however, $5,550 pays for only about four to six weeks at a high-priced private college (Cronin & Horton, 2009).
Because of these unique challenges, all administrative departments including academics, admissions, and the financial aid office must work collaboratively to help retain students and assist them through graduation. The most common reason college students choose to attend an institution or withdraw from a university can be attributed to whether or not a student can afford the tuition. Therefore, rising tuition costs will remain at the forefront in our education system’s list of challenges.
Unfortunately, working in the Financial Aid Department of an expensive private school, administrators cannot recommend that the student attend a less expensive school. The only task of the Financial Aid staff is to package the student for whatever federal aid the student may be eligible for then recommend the student take out a credit-based private loan. Unfornately, many students do not have an established credit history so they are forced to seek out co-signers for their private student loans.
One way that students could save thousands of dollars would involve enrolling at a community college for two years and then transferring those credits to the four-year school of their choice. I often have told my students that it does not matter where you start your degree, it only matters where you finish it. Many reputable junior and community colleges offer both campus and online courses for literally thousands less than state or private schools. Although it may not be as glamorous to start at a community college, the money a student can save is well worth it.
In closing, I am not recommending that all students begin at a community college, I simply think that not enough lower-income students see it as an option out of fear that their credits will not transfer. This is simply just not true and students should speak with an academic counselor before enrolling so they can find out which credits are transferable to the four year school of their choice.
Another underutilized resource is the CLEP exam that is offered by the College Board and accepted by most universities nationwide. This is another method to both save money, and save time by testing out of entry-level and elective coursework. Both traditional and online colleges can better serve their students by reviewing all of their CLEP testing options.