Paying the piper: Cutting your tuition costs by a third

Looking through the news recently, I read that two Ohio students were each sentenced to 20 years in jail for armed robbery. When the Judge asked them why they had committed the crimes, they stated that they needed the cash to pay for school. Apparently, their tuition went up and their scholarships and financial aid were not enough to cover the costs of their education.

It's been a few years since I was in school, but I still have clear memories of the loan shark-style tactics that the university used to get money out of me. I remember being charged for athletic tickets that I never received, health-care that I never used, and buses that I never rode. And then there were the meal plans that I was forced to buy, the overpriced textbooks that I couldn't afford, and the ridiculous parking tickets that I got whenever the student parking lot filled up (which usually happened sometime around 7:30 in the morning). When I didn't pay, the school blocked my account, denying me access to classes, library books, and even food.

All in all, it's not hard to imagine how the two students, Andrew Butler and Christopher Avery, got the idea to rob people. I think they were just following the lead set by their schools. These young men are not alone; I've known several other people who sought out creative methods of paying their tuition. For example, there was the young lady at my university who was kicked out of the ROTC when it was discovered that she was stripping to pay for school. At my wife's college, two students had to go begging to financial aid after the marijuana that they were selling to pay tuition was seized by local law enforcement officers.

I, personally, spent two semesters doing nude modeling for the art department to cover tuition and put food on the table.

I have heard tales about the mythical time when people could pay their way through school, come out with little or no debt, and get high-paying jobs. However, that time is long gone. Between skyrocketing tuition costs and all the little ancillary "services" universities extort...excuse me, offer, a college degree now costs slightly more than the Hope diamond, and is no guarantee of steady employment.

And, lest I appear too cynical, I should also point out that I am a former college instructor. I am a fan of higher education and the opportunity that it allows for thought. I'm just not all that big on highway robbery.

One way to drastically cut down on the costs of higher education is by taking classes at a community college. When I was an undergraduate, my University, which was state-sponsored, charged $300 per class. The local community college charged only $100. I managed to take a few classes there, which ended up saving me a semester's worth of tuition and fees.

When I was a student, taking summer classes was all well and good, and I patted myself on the back for being a very, very smart consumer. However, I went to school before tuition prices exploded. If I was a student now, I think I'd have to take CC classes just to get out without massive debt. It's hard to overstate how good a deal community colleges are: most freshman and sophomore core classes are available at a fraction of the cost from community colleges, and many major universities accept up to sixty credits (two years) worth of transfer credit. By maxing this out, you will not only save a lot of money, but will also get way ahead in school. And, if you're fretting about the quality of education available at these institutions, you should know that many of them are staffed by teachers from more prominent schools, who are moonlighting for extra money. Admittedly, the students are sometimes a little rougher around the edges, but they are also a lot more motivated than your average student at a major university. Community college students often know what the real world is like, and are eager to enjoy the benefits of higher education. Personally, I've found that they generally are more inspired and energetic than their mainstream counterparts.

Community colleges still aren't free, and even if you take the maximum number of credits, you will still have to pay for at least two years of tuition at your primary university. However, two years of college at a third (or less) of the price seems like a great deal, to say the least. Best of all, you won't have to resort to extreme measures to pay your bill!

Bruce Watson is a former English instructor, sometime writer, and all-around cheapskate. A co-author of Military Lessons of the Gulf Warand A Chronology of the Cold War at Sea, his work has appeared in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, The Roanoker, The Brush Mountain Review, The Eccentric Monthly, The Best of Times, and College Daze. He currently blogs on Crankster.

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