COLLEGE SAVINGS 101

Monthly top tips

Researching college costs
by Joe Hurley, founder, Savingforcollege.com
Sunday, July 16th 2006

If you have a child in college right now, I don't need to tell you how much it costs to obtain a degree. You will receive a stark reminder of that figure when the fall semester tuition bill arrives at your house any day now.

But if your child is younger, and you want to prepare for the day when he or she first steps onto a college campus (or goes online to a virtual campus), you need to have a sense of what those college costs will be. I will suggest a couple of resources to help you in your research.

The first place to go is www.collegeboard.org. The College Board is a non-profit association that helps families make the connection to higher education. Each fall the College Board publishes a study entitled "Trends in College Pricing." Download the 2005 report for an understanding of how college prices on both a national and regional basis have risen over the last 10 years. Obviously, the type of institution—two-year, four-year, public, or private—makes a big difference in the tuition cost. The report also highlights the fact that a college's published price is not necessarily the price you will pay. In fact, over 62% of four-year undergrads receive grants and scholarships from federal or state sources, or from the institution itself.

Armed with the background knowledge from the College Board, your next step is to begin looking at the specific schools your son or daughter may eventually consider attending. The U.S. Department of Education provides a terrific tool called the College Opportunities Online Locator (COOL) containing pricing information for over 7,000 colleges and universities across the nation. The database displays pricing over a three-year period, so you can discern the trends at a particular institution.

It's important to realize that tuition levels of public universities vary widely among states and that national averages may not be very meaningful. For state-by-state details, I happen to like the annual report issued by the Washington (State) Higher Education Coordinating Board called Tuition and Fee Rates: A National Comparison.

You'll also want to know how much you need to save on a monthly or annual basis to have enough on hand when the college days (daze?) arrive. It's easy to do that with our new tool, immodestly labeled The World's Simplest (Yet Most Accurate and Flexible) College Cost Calculator. You'll receive a college savings budget by entering just one figure—your child's age. But you'll also want to play around with the assumptions (very easy to do) to see how your savings budget is affected under different scenarios.

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