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How I Slashed My Kids' College Tuition Bill By 50%

Just like sometimes two heads are better than one, sometimes two schools are better than one, or at least thousands of dollars cheaper!

As a Certified Financial Planner, I’ve been actively trying to figure out how to cut college tuition costs for my clients. As a dad soon to have three kids in college in 2019, it’s especially timely!

Here’s how I am making college more affordable. We all know college costs are out of control, and there are several popular strategies people use, including:

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  • Taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school and testing well enough to get your child college credit.
  • In some school districts your child can take classes at a community college while in high school and get dual credit.
  • Have your child go to junior college. This is especially inexpensive if they go to school in your area, getting resident rates. The cost difference for my son at College of DuPage (for online courses) was about $450 for a three-credit class, or $150 per credit hour. On the other hand, my daughter goes out of state to the University of Minnesota, where they charge roughly $1,100 per credit hour, or $3,300 for the same three-hour class as a full-time student.
  • Of course, going to an in-state four-year college is usually much less expensive than paying out-of-state tuition. Staying in-state will save you a bundle, and it’s my belief that once you have a degree, what you do after college is the biggest determinant of your ultimate success. Generally, that’s a much better value, but what if you child’s heart is set on going to a more expensive school?

How do I give my kid the great 4-year college experience at half the price?

What do you do if you have a child who has their heart set on an expensive, four-year school (whether it’s in-state, out-of-state or a private school)? The answer involves a two-pronged approach. First, have them register for only a couple classes at their dream four-year school, qualifying them as a part-time student there. This usually saves a ton in tuition cost. Second, supplement that by taking online classes from any institution that offers the classes they need at the four-year school that will be accepted, but at a fraction of the cost. They get to live on-campus like all the other kids and get the college experience they were hoping for while taking courses from two or more schools.

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Here’s a look at the details of how my plan works. From my research, most schools have one full-time rate that covers anything over a certain number of credit hours. For example, my daughter goes to University of Minnesota (UM), and full-time enrollment means 13 or more credit hours per semester. For 13 or more credits the non-resident cost is $14,368 per semester. Ouch! One cost-saving move would be for her to take as many credits as possible, say 18, since the price is the same — but my two-pronged approach is cheaper.

Instead of overloading her with courses to max out on tuition, she can take two three-credit courses at UM. At UM if you take less than 13 credits you are considered part-time and are charged per credit. For the Class of 2022, the per-credit cost is $1,105. So, the UM bill for the part-timer taking six credits this semester is $6,630 ($1,105 x 6 credits). Then, she can supplement those courses while living on campus by taking three three-credit courses online from a community college. For example, Western Civilization, Business Law and Religion 101. At the College of DuPage (COD), the resident costs for these online courses is about $500 per course. Most kids love the online courses as they usually a lot less difficult than the same courses at their four-year university.

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Therefore, the cost of taking nine credit hours at COD is $1,500. Add the $1,500 (COD) to the $6,630 (UM) and you get $8,130, or a little more than half the cost of full-time tuition!

I JUST SAVED $6,000 FOR THE SEMESTER AND $12,000 PER YEAR!

My son goes to a private college, DePaul, which is on a quarter system. It’s a pricey school at $13,000 per quarter. The same math as above works just as well with DePaul. Their full-time student quarterly fee is the same for 12+ credits and their part-time credit fee is only $630/credit. So he took statistics and marketing courses at DePaul while living in Lincoln Park three blocks from campus. As a part-time DePaul student, this cost $5,040 (8 credits x $630). He took history and religion at COD online, which cost $1,000 for the eight credits he earned there.

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My son’s total tuition for the quarter was $6,040 ($5,040 + $1,000), for a quarterly savings of $6,960! ($13,000 - $6,040)

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Doing that for three quarters adds up to over $20,000 of tuition savings! I believe this works for most four-year schools. This works especially well for the first couple years of college while taking basic courses at a community college. In most cases, your student will want to be taking the courses in their major from the four-year school. Many colleges mandate that the last 30-60 credit hours be taken at their school in order to get their degree.

If you are wondering if the courses will transfer in to the four-year school, the answer is “probably yes.” You can check ahead of time with the school before registering to confirm. Most four-year schools have websites that help you check this, or speak with an adviser. There is also a great website called Transferology, which allows you to search every university that has a class that will be allowed at the college your child attends to meet the course requirement. It’s terrific!

In this day and age, college costs are out of control, and we know that our kids need “the paper,” the diploma to give them the best opportunity in life.

I strongly consider looking into these strategies as they are a way to enjoy the great four-year college experience and shave off thousands of dollars in tuition costs.

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About the Author

Brad Rosley, CFP

President, Fortune Financial Group (FFG)

Brad Rosley, CFP®, has been president of Fortune Financial Group (FFG) since 1996. FFG runs a virtual planning practice working with clients from all over the country. Rosley specializes in helping clients successfully navigate retirement related planning goals and construct investment portfolios to meet their personal life goals. His book "Beyond Money" made the Amazon best-seller list in the summer of 2018.

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