The Big Ts and College Outcomes

The Big Ts and College Outcomes


Why can you fairly consistently put any two people into a given situation and end up with vastly different results? The question has fascinated me for some time, particularly as I am privy to the financials of numerous people through work and ministry. I have met public schoolteachers with money to burn and flat-broke corporate executives. Some folks feel blessed by their wealth and others curse the day they came into it. Some walk through hard times with head held high and others with self contempt. Whatever the events in question I observe outcomes of greed and generosity, fear and excitement, success and failure, personal responsibility and others-blaming. Why the differences?

Over time I have come to find that one’s financial results have not much to do with externally observable factors. Rather, how one fares largely comes about due to one’s philosophical view of money. What is money to you? Once I ferret that out then with fair certainty I can tell you the sorts of results you can expect to show for your financial circumstances, whether it involves earning, saving, spending, or investing.

In a similar fashion when we look at the college scene today – the stats, the stories, the trends – if nothing else we note vastly different outcomes across the population of students.  Some graduate without a hiccup and some drop out; some credit their degree with a higher quality of life while others strive with careers and debt. Why? And what will your results be? Tell me what college is to you and I can probably answer that question. And for the record: my earlier-held views sure account for my struggles and failures as a student/early graduate.

Continue reading The Big Ts and College Outcomes

Chart: The Most Expensive College Dorms in Each State

Chart: The Most Expensive College Dorms in Each State

Most expensive room & board by state

Elsewhere we’ve detailed the full-cost breakdown students face when going to college. The big lesson was to not ignore the fact that we must also consider the financial impact of room, board, books, and transportation when making plans. After I presented that chart I was tempted to provide you with a series of tips on how to save money on such things. But I realized to do so at this point in this blog’s lifespan would send the wrong message.

This chart unwittingly proves this point. Here we have an infographic and state-by-state breakdown compiled by of the most expensive dorms in each state (note, however, this chart and figures refer to room and food, meaning the combined cost of dorms and meal plans).

While fun and informative, this chart serves as a great object lesson to not get too mired down in dealing with such expenses.  Yes, we need to consider them when pre-planning our annual allocations of resources. But… Continue reading Chart: The Most Expensive College Dorms in Each State

Chart: Low Income + Expensive Stated Tuition ≠ Unaffordable Education

Chart: Low Income + Expensive Stated Tuition ≠ Unaffordable Education

Actual Cost Cropped Pic

  (Chart above has been cropped for space reasons. Click on it for the full version)


This chart comes to us courtesy of Jeff Guo of the Washington Post, who included it in his short article about how poorer students get caught in the trap of not applying for good, cheap schools because they seem expensive on the surface. Indeed, the gap between actual post-aid tuition costs and sticker price can be significant, particularly at private schools whose endowments provide flexibility to tier their prices and/or negotiate individually. As Mr. Guo points out, the tuition for poorer household students borders on zero at many schools notorious for exclusivity and expense. College finance experts have written on this time and time again but this week’s chart provides an excellent visual prompt to not accept a stated tuition at face value.

The upshot: in your quest to identify schools that fit your needs and your pocketbook, don’t out of hand overlook those schools which seem expensive but might offer good financial aid packages. As you filter schools for affordability be sure not to rely solely on sticker prices. Instead determine what your costs at an institution will look like, whether through aid-adjusted aggregate data or more personalized calculators.


Cut the Fat and Save: The Extension Campus

Cut the Fat and Save: The Extension Campus

fancy gym

College costs have skyrocketed in recent decades with the inflation rate of tuition far exceeding that of nearly any other category, including medical care. When we explore the reasons as to why, we note it has nothing to do with the quality of education. Prices continually rise in spite of falling academic standards. Instead, according to researcher Ronald Ehrenberg and his ilk, costs have risen due to “an arms race of spending to improve facilities, faculty, students, research, and instructional technology.”

In order to attract students, flush with government and parental money, colleges market themselves by providing scores of non-educational service staff, extracurricular programs to enhance campus life, bloated administrations, and gleaming facilities of every kind. Wired up classrooms, cavernous dining halls, resort-style dorms, rec centers, and athletic facilities the envy of professional teams dominate the modern campus. Students of yesteryear made do with so much less… and not surprisingly paid so much less.

While many students in fact do want all these shiny new toys and will gladly pay extra for them, where does a serious-minded student find relief when one simply wants a quality, recognized, cost-conscious education without the frills? Continue reading Cut the Fat and Save: The Extension Campus

Apply to a Free or Cheap School

Apply to a Free or Cheap School

Blue free stamp

When you start researching or putting out applications to colleges, let me encourage you to include at least one or two free or cheap schools on your list.

Yes, you heard me right. Free or cheap. Even with massive ramp-ups in tuition inflation over recent years there exists a small pocket of colleges that don’t charge much tuition, if any. Though it sounds too good to be true, these institutions can afford not to charge typically because of a large endowment fund or by offsetting their costs through student labor agreements. Bucking the idea that “you only get what you pay for” many of these institutions’ programs are world-renowned and top-flight.

Researching them would take very little time given their relative rarity. And if you discover one or two to your liking why not take a chance and apply?  Continue reading Apply to a Free or Cheap School

Chart: Savings Rates by Educational Level

Chart: Savings Rates by Educational Level


savings rates by educational status


(Click on chart above to go to original article)

This chart comes from Josh Zumbrun of the Wall Street Journal, who has reported and charted some findings of a recent data set from Moody’s Analytics. Recent research has shown that individual savings rates of late seem to be correlated to the amount of college education one has.

Those with a college degree and some college under their belt save at a much higher rate than their high school diploma and drop-out counterparts. This is encouraging news that despite the bleak reports of high college-associated debt loads and a dismal post-graduation job market college graduates tend to do better not only in terms of lifetime earnings but also lifetime savings.

Of course, what such data does not answer is why. Why do former college-goers save more? Continue reading Chart: Savings Rates by Educational Level

Trust Me: Give Thanks




Trust Me: Give Thanks


I have ready many, many articles and books about obtaining scholarships from various sources, but have seen far less said about the proper follow up to won funds. Recently I dove into two scholarship-specific books, one a 400 page masterpiece on the subject which had nothing to say about today’s topic. So hear it from me. To win funds without explicitly and profusely offering thanks in return is to pass up a great opportunity.

Trust me: When you do win a coveted scholarship or receive gifts respond with a well-written, hand-written thank you and at least one follow up note. In fact, go the extra mile and put a to-do on your calendar to write your benefactors again each semester or so. Send along pictures and a synopsis of what you’re getting from your experience, all with an expression of gratitude.

Trust me, this is good practice. But why? Continue reading Trust Me: Give Thanks

Avoid Penalties on Your Savings

Avoid Penalties on Your Savings

pink piggy with ball and chain


I would love to simply tell families and students to save all they can for college and leave it at that. Unfortunately, saving up for school isn’t the straightforward objective it should be wherein X dollars in the bank equals X dollars in money available for college. Thanks to the complicated treatments of income and savings in the FAFSA and other financial aid calculations, placing the funds in the “right” or “wrong” spot can affect one’s bottom line for better or for worse in other ways.

Currently about 85% of students get financial aid in some fashion, which is a large reason why the actual per-student cost of college is typically 1/2 to 1/3 of the sticker price. Being mindful of how and where to save for college with financial aid in mind will also affect your savings on college.

A person who understands the financial aid formulas can then make legal and reasonable shifts in asset placement prior the filing of forms or taxes. (For purposes of our discussion we’ll focus on the FAFSA, though a limited number of schools use different forms.) Let’s explore just two of the bigger FAFSA considerations, after which appropriate asset placement strategies should all but become obvious.

Continue reading Avoid Penalties on Your Savings

Chart: Graduation Success and Failure by Family Income Level

Chart: Graduation Success and Failure by Family Income Level

100 Students Start College

(Click chart to go to source)

This chart comes to us from Darla Cameron and Laura Stanton of the Washington Post. It’s a brilliant little piece of interactive graphics, going beyond the usual “lump-’em-all-together” statistical analysis. This chart details not just how all college students fare, but how students from four strata of family income levels succeed in terms of graduation after six years.

This should be helpful to students to personalize the statistics a bit more and be less prone to the mental errors associated with the “flaw of averages.” While it’s true that on average 44% of all students graduate in six years with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, students can now look a bit deeper into the numbers to get a better sense of how their financial peers do in the college environment. For instance, according to this chart, students from higher income backgrounds tend to graduate at a rate of about 56% but those from the bottom income quadrant at a rate of only 36%. Continue reading Chart: Graduation Success and Failure by Family Income Level

Faces of Devastation: Hurt and Hope Beyond the Statistics

Faces of Devastation: Hurt and Hope Beyond the Statistics


In researching items related to achieving an affordable education one runs across tons of numbers and charts related to the experience. The statistics associated with tuition rises, early dropout rates, graduate debt loads, and unemployment raise awareness that we have a problem.

But the tragedy of it all really hits home when we encounter the people behind the numbers. While we can get a general sense of the  financial struggles faced by students as a group through raw information, behind every number there’s a face. The college unaffordability epidemic has names. Their stories break my heart.

The bad news is that we have so many chewed up and despondent lives to show for the experience. The good news is that the problem can be resolved at the individual level, time and time again, by folks like you and me. Continue reading Faces of Devastation: Hurt and Hope Beyond the Statistics