Paying for College

New Trend Caps College Costs at Four Years

Some schools won’t charge extra if you need more than four years.

Attention, parents of future college students: A number of colleges across the country (currently about 15) are offering four-year degree guarantees. You don’t pay if your kid’s education spills over into extra semesters.

It’s not slacker support. Enlisted students must meet certain requirements, such as passing their classes and following their academic plans. But if students fall victim to unavailable prerequisite classes or other roadblocks that the school controls, the college picks up the tab for required classes beyond four years. The programs are most prevalent at small, private schools, such as Juniata College, in Pennsylvania, and Randolph-Macon College, in Virginia (see our special report on Top College Values).

Degree guarantees aren’t meant for students who are unsure about their career path; a four-year plan may not be realistic as they explore their options and change majors. But for those who are focused from the start, it could be a no-brainer. Travis DeGraphenried, a senior at Virginia Wesleyan College, in Hampton Roads, Va., says that the four-year guarantee he signed as a freshman has helped him stay on track to start medical school in the fall of 2012. In the unlikely event that he has to stick around Virginia Wesleyan for an extra semester, he won’t have to fork over more tuition money. “It’s a win-win situation,” he says.

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