Now is the time that many families begin trying to figure out how they are going to pay for their child’s college tuition that will be due in the next year or two. Articles in the July and August, 2011 issues of Registered Rep magazine and the August, 2011 issue of Financial Planning magazine provide some ideas that may be useful to you. Several decades ago, Billy Vaughn, a newspaper columnist wrote, “Economists report that a college education adds many thousands of dollars to one’s lifetime income-which is then spent sending a child to college”. Since those words of wisdom, the cost of attending private and public universities has increased at nearly twice the rate of inflation. The good news is that there are billions of dollars in financial aid and scholarships available. Finding these dollars is sometimes a difficult task.
Financial assistance falls into two categories: merit based aid and need based aid. Federal financial aid is entirely need based. Universities can provide aid from their own resources, based on need as well as merit. The starting point is completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which must be completed and submitted to each school that your child is applying and seeking financial aid. Information on this form is used by the schools to determine the EFC-expected family contribution-the minimum amount a family is expected to contribute for a particular year. Louisiana students who qualify are still blessed with the TOPS program that has been a godsend to thousands of Louisiana graduates. However, these funds do not cover all the costs, so financial assistance may still be needed. You can find out a school’s recent history in need and merit based aid by typing the school’s name into the College Board’s College QuickFinder box on the left hand side of the home page (www.collegeboard.com). After getting to the school’s profile, click on the Cost and Financial Aid link and you will find info under the “Financial Aid Statistics”. To find the merit aid history, look for the line item that says average non-need based aid. Here is a statistic that was news to me: Public universities have seen an increase in applicants as families look for more reasonable tuitions. However, you may not want to limit your choices to public schools. Budget cuts and increasing enrollments make it harder for public schools to hire enough faculty to allow students to take the necessary classes to graduate in four years. Also, you may expect tuition increases in public schools, plus private schools have more discretion with pricing, and can discount tuition to attract the best and brightest.
There are numerous websites that can help you in your search. College Navigator is a large federal database that includes a tremendous amount of statistics on individual colleges and universities, including financial aid, merit aid, costs, majors, freshman retention rates and more. MeritAid is important because it provides a directory of in-house scholarships from the schools themselves. Only 4% of scholarships and grants come from private sources like Rotary, Kiwanis, etc. Most of the rest is in-house. College Board was mentioned in the above paragraph. Zinch.com and Cappex.com are like dating services that the schools use to promote themselves and to find students that might make great matches. College Results Online provides you with graduation rates for any college which can be compared with their peer institutions.
As you approach this challenge, review the words in Matthew 6: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink…Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to the span of your life? Indeed, your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. So, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
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