About Prudent $cholar

The Prudent Scholar explores the topic of money and higher education. We look at at big picture and small: both the latest news and the nitty-gritty details of college life that might help you save money and get more value from your educational experience.

November 21, 2011

Out-of-State tuition and student debt

The front page of a recent Chronicle of Higher Education held two headlines: 

These two stories, one of student loan debt and one of student migration are very much related.  According to the College Board, the average public four-year college charge  this year  (after deducting financial aid packages) was $8,244 in tuition and fees for in-state students. Out-of-state students paid $12,526. 

This is just for illustrative purposes, because financial aid can vary so much, but that's a difference of $17,128 over four years. Add in the increase in travel costs (air travel at Christmas, for example) and you might round up to $20,000.

Public universities recruit from out-of-state for a variety of reasons. A larger pool of applicants helps a university attract diverse and high-quality students, which changes the academic climate and helps with rankings and reputation.

Out-of-state students also pay the bills. In some cases, they pay as much as private school students. In general, they help states meet the university's financial needs as state governments slash funding.

Is it worth it? Maybe.  It's a question of priorities and goals.   Does the school a few states away have something you can't get at home?  Do you dream of being a marine biologist but live in land-locked Idaho?  Does the company you dream of only hire engineers from Purdue University? In other words, does a certain program increase your chance of success?

 If the answer is "I want to be an English major" or "I think I want to be a social worker" then check out what the nearest state school has to offer and save yourself $20,000.

November 8, 2011

The tougher the instructor, the better the value

There are different ways to get a good education no matter what kind of school you choose (or that chooses you).  One is to seek out the best professors, the ones who will help you become a better thinker and doer. 
Last week, I read about Steven Maranville's suit against Utah Valley University.   A newspaper article never presents all the facts (and neither does a lawsuit), but Maranville's lawyers are describing a dedicated and talented professor booted for challenging his students.  He required teamwork and used the dreaded Socratic method of teaching. 

Maranville's best reviews on Rate My Professor talk of how his class was hard, but prepared the students for the business world. Most jobs require quick thinking. You'll answer questions and work with a team, just like in Maranville's class.

The worst reviews barely make their case. Many are poorly worded and riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. Some of them, granted, are using textspeak, but some reviews read as if a monkey got  stole an IPhone to text his anger to the world.

The Maranville case points, then, to another issue: The importance of the quality of your peers. You can get a good undergraduate education at a school with open admissions. I did. And, some of my peers were inspiring, especially the non-traditional students, who worked long hours at day jobs, but by and large came to class enthused. Others wanted to coast and some of the classes allowed that. Avoid the classes that let you coast. They are a waste of money.

What's the culture of a school? The University of Houston ratings for this one professor are much higher than his rankings at Utah Valley University; this is even considering that some of the UVA students posted poor ratings on his Houston page, which would bring down his average score there.

Don't just get a degree. Get a good education. If you're paying just for a credential, you are not a scholar. You're a customer. Beware of institutions that want to give the people what they want. You deserve better.

November 1, 2011

Summer classes: A good deal for you?

Light summer reading.  Photo courtesy of Nina Hale, though a creative commons license.

Indiana University announced an interesting plan last week to reduce education costs (and more effectively utilize its academic buildings year-round).  IU is now offering a 25% reduction in tuition for summer classes. This is a great deal for some students. Is a summer class -- discounted or not -- a great deal for you?  Ask yourself a few questions before signing up for summer.

Will the course(s) help you graduate on time? Will it help you graduate early?
Talk to your academic advisor about this one.  Behind in credits? Summer classes are a great way to catch up so that you can graduate on time. Ahead on credits? A well-chosen summer class or four might even mean you can graduate a semester early. 
Will summer coursework help you with a goal?
Maybe summer coursework doesn't bring graduation closer, but helps you gain a valuable or valued minor or certificate that you don't have time for otherwise. You might be an art major who seeks a business minor or vice versa thanks to summer study.  
Will you be paying the rent anyway?
If you have a 12-month lease, you are paying for a large part of your educational expense whether present at school or not. 
If you normally live on campus with a 8- or 9-month lease, sub-leasing an apartment can be a cost-effective option for summer study.  In college towns such as IU's Bloomington, IN, students leave an abundance of empty houses and apartments behind in the summer. It's a sub-leaser's market.  You might also check with your residence hall to see if they are looking for summer help in return for a place to stay.
How will you pay for the class?
Are you at Big State, but paying out-of-state tuition? Even with a special discount, the price tag can be high.  Are you at the small private and paying tuition to match?  Add up the costs and compare to the alternatives. It might make more sense to go home for the summer and take a class at the local community college. Talk with your academic advisor about transfer policies and procedures.
What are you giving up?

The summers of college are not likely to be replicated in your later adult life. It's a chance to recharge, to gain important experiences or to work ahead in non-academic ways. A prestigious internship might mean more to your future than graduating early; summer jobs can take the edge off of academic-year costs. Think about the opportunity costs of taking summer classes.
Will taking summer classes affect you financially in the future? 
 Ask yourself if it affects your financial aid (loan or scholarship) and talk with your financial aid counselor or scholarship coordinator if you don't know the answer. Some scholarships are finite and taking a summer class now means there is less funding for a future semester. In the long run, this might be fine, but all the more reason to make sure the summer classes count.

But, what about the fun of learning, you say? Perhaps you want to take a class for the fun of it this summer? By all means, but know the opportunity costs.  Prudent scholars don't take summer classes without weighing their options.