Category Archives: alternative schools

How to Kill Two Birds with One Stone

How to Kill Two Birds with One Stone

Two cartoon style blue birds with orange beaks apparently dead and belly-up next to a grey stone with a literal depiction of the saying kill two birds with one stone on an isolated white background

What if I told you about a system wherein students at 73% of the high schools in the country students could fulfill their high school graduation requirements AND earn college credits at the same time? What if I then told you that in most cases these college credits could be had at severe discount, or even for free? You might be surprised, like I was, that the vast majority of students to whom this opportunity is available fail to take advantage of it. Continue reading How to Kill Two Birds with One Stone

Test Drive Before You Buy

Test Drive Before You Buy

cycling guy

Elsewhere we explored “The Costs of Excess Credits,” or taking more credit hours than necessary toward completion of a degree. One quick and easy way to contend with the rising costs of college is to take as few classes as possible en route to graduation. But what options do we have if we want to explore majors, might need remedial instruction, or just want to take classes for enjoyment?

With other goods like sweaters and cars we can usually try out the product for fit before we pony up funds and commit to its purchase. Unfortunately, the traditional college experience offers very little opportunity to do this. Sure, we can enroll in a class and drop it within a certain time frame for full refund but students who do this will find the registration process onerous, class availability limited, and the pressure to back out within a refund period non-conducive for full exploration.

Fortunately, today’s student has access to top-level classes without the restrictions of geography or seating availability. Further, these classes are usually free and sometimes nominally priced.  Continue reading Test Drive Before You Buy

Chart: The Value of a Buck by State

Chart: The Value of a Buck by State

How much $1 worth in each state

While on the surface this chart selection seems to have nothing to do with college, it highlights a very important factor in college and career affordability. Thanks to an analysis conducted by the Tax Foundation we get to see the relative value of a dollar state-by-state (they also offer a more detailed breakdown here). Once we grasp the concept of differing amounts of purchasing power between regions we get a little insight into our ultimate prospects for affordable endeavors.

I stumbled into this phenomenon in the years surrounding my college experience. I came from a retirement mecca in Arizona but went to college in a region of Ohio where seemingly everything -groceries, gas, vehicles, housing, services – could be had for less. While there I could convert my minimum wage campus employment into cheap sustenance from Aldi and entertainment from the dollar theater. After graduation I returned to Arizona eke by by on my $8/hour wages before wising up and scampering back to rural Ohio where the same pay freed up enough money to consistently pay extra on my student loans.

Keep this in mind as you explore schools and jobs. If you have two relatively similar schools of relatively similar expense, you may want to tip your interest in favor of a school in a region where a dollar buys you more. You will have to, after all, continually purchase items off campus. And when entertaining job offers don’t always bite for the higher paying gig, particularly if that would land you in a region of greater expense.

In fact, I often advise youth from my area to move out of town to get their start in the South or the Midwest where it’s much easier to find cheap starter homes and  hoopties to tide them over until they have enough net worth to make choices based on wants over needs. I’m sure glad I did, even if by happy accident.


Chart: Lowest Out of State Tuitions

Chart: Lowest Out of State Tuitions

Lowest OOS Tuition


This chart comes to us via an article in US News and World Report by Delece Smith-Barrow. She has compiled a list of the state schools that charge the least tuition to non-resident students.

Many students, particularly from states like Arizona with a dearth of four-year state schools, still balk at the idea of traveling out of state due to the often large increases in cost for simply crossing a border or two. Then the choice seems fairly binary: go cheaply to an in-state school or break the bank going to a private or out-of-state one. However, as Ms. Smith-Barrow has shown us, this is a false dichotomy.

If one has a desire to attend school out of state (as I certainly did) then one needn’t assume one will pay much higher prices for the privilege. We have 2,500+ four-year degree-conferring institutions in these United States and if you learn nothing else from these pages, learn this: in search of a good, affordable education open up your mental boundaries and do a little exploring. You’ll be all the wiser, and perhaps all the richer, for it.


Mix & Match

Mix & Match



Even if you are averse to one or all of the suggestions above, or if you like any but not enough to otherwise derail your hopes for a more typical course of action, nothing says you have to think about college in all-or-nothing terms. While we tend to pursue higher education as though we had to pick a single entrée off the menu, students may want to shift the paradigm and consider earning their degree from a buffet of choices, taking a little bit here, a little bit there until they have a meal on their plate. Continue reading Mix & Match

Universidad Gratis (Translation: Free College)

Universidad Gratis (Translation: Free College)

gratis grunge retro red isolated ribbon stamp

Lately there’s been a lot of debate about whether or not college could or should be free. As costs here in the United States continue to soar, does it make sense to advocate for a free public university system like what students in Germany, for example, experience?

What usually gets lost on us as we read these debatable policy proposals is that college is indeed free in many places overseas… and free for us as well. Just as foreign students can apply for colleges here and pay according to our policies, we can apply to foreign schools and pay according to their policies. If that country’s schools’ tuitions happen to be free for the locals, it’s often also available at no or little cost to us.

Continue reading Universidad Gratis (Translation: Free College)

Come Up Short? Explore the Reverse Transfer

smoked sausages


Come Up Short? Explore the Reverse Transfer

Normally in this space I write to an audience of would-be college students, high school upper classmen and others who seek to embark on the college path for the first time. Yet increasingly I run into, hear from, and read about the dropouts- former students who didn’t quite attain a degree for one reason or another.

Unfortunately, dropping out has become the norm, not the exception. For many the short-lived college experience can seem like such a waste; it’s back to square one with little to show except the ability to check the “some college” box on job applications and a trail of student debt. As we’ve seen previously those who have college credits but no degree have some earnings advantages over those who obtained no education beyond high school but have been largely in the same boat in terms of wage declines in this job market. What to do with a handful of college credits but no formal degree?
Continue reading Come Up Short? Explore the Reverse Transfer

Who’s Looking For You?

Who’s Looking For You?

wen wanted

The typical question students ask themselves, and the one we ask them as they approach high school graduation, goes something along the lines of “where do you want to go to school?” But when one peels back the curtain on the world of college admissions we realize very quickly that this coin has two sides; schools themselves regularly ask “who do we want at this school?

University admissions directors work very hard to craft a student population according to some ideal or another. Along with trying to attract academically proficient kids, most institutions also have certain demographic diversity targets. Herein lies our opportunity: find out who’s looking for you.  Continue reading Who’s Looking For You?

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

Resident, Non-Resident, and In-Between

Resident, Non-Resident, and In-Between

In this article I explain how students attending out-of-state public schools needn’t pay the full nonresident tuition price that may otherwise keep them in-state, and how attending another state’s school(s) may actually save a student money over attending their own in-state college(s).

Quite often in college selection, students can feel somewhat forced into a state school for pricing reasons. After all, the average sticker tuition cost of a public institution is about 3.6 times less than a private institution, and that difference matters over the course of four years, with the total cost of tuition averaging just over $34,000 at a public school or $123,000 at a private school, notwithstanding discounts and scholarships and the like.

But to be more specific yet, students can feel somewhat forced into a particular set of state schools … those on their home turf. After all, the difference between in-state public school tuition and out-of-state public school tuition looms almost as large as those between public and private, with costs usually running around 3x or more for kids attending state schools outside of their resident borders. So while Washington State might be more attractive on a Rank basis to an Arizona resident than the three state schools of prominence here, when looking at the sticker prices involved it might appear an unjustified extra expense all the same.

For example, the three state schools of Arizona have sticker resident tuitions of $9,684 (ASU), $9,746 (NAU), and $10,752 (UofA), and these are substantially cheaper than the sticker non-resident cost of $23,956 at Washington State. Certainly, any way you cut it a $40,000 4-year college education is quite a bit cheaper, and therefore likely more affordable all things considered, than a nearly $100,000 one.

I know this really bummed me out when I graduated high school – one of my key Rank objectives was to get a fresh start far, far away from my hometown and to see a little bit more of the country than I’d already known. Another was to attend a smaller school than what my state could offer. Though cheaper than my other known options, my in-state schools were both too near and too populous for my liking.

However, one needn’t despair altogether if the in-state school option seems affordable on the Resource and Return level but seem unpalatable otherwise. Further, one needn’t despair if one’s state schools don’t even pass muster financially.

Thanks to regional Student Exchange Programs, schools in the same geographical region often form consortiums, and agree to offer either in-state or capped rates to students from other participating state schools. For instance, the west has one such program, the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE), and similar programs exist for schools in other regions. While particular schools may have more individualized agreements with even better terms, WUE partnership schools have all agreed to charge in-region students a maximum 150% of their in-state tuition.

This means several things for the student. For one, they may find that an out-of-state school of a particular stripe elsewhere offers the sorts of experience and amenities they otherwise had looked only to private schools to provide. For two, one can expand one’s scope of affordable schools considerably. For three, the student may actually attend an out-of-state school for less money than they would have spent in-state.

This last fact is particularly striking as I work primarily with residents of Arizona. Here we only have three in-state public four-year institutions. As already noted, they all cost just shy of $10,000 in tuition alone. But if a person were willing, or wanting, to travel to another WUE-associated school, he or she could actually save money by doing so. The pricing details can be found here (WUE Tuition Savings Chart). When scanning for alternative four-year colleges that would be cheaper to attend than my in-state options 3  in Alaska, 14 in California, 1 in Hawaii, 4 in Idaho, 6 in Montana, 3 in Nevada, 7 in New Mexico, 6 in North Dakota, 5 in Utah, 3 in Washington, and 1 in Wyoming would fit the bill.

Thus, I would encourage students to largely ignore the posted resident and nonresident tuition numbers of schools int their proximity as they seek to identify affordable schools. Quite likely, schools within an entire region may be cheaper than previously thought, possibly even cheaper than what one can find in-state.