Category Archives: return

OK, But What Does “Afford” Mean?

OK, But What Does “Afford” Mean?

I tend to catch a certain sort of article that comes across my radar with fair regularity, such as : “Four Steps to a Debt Free Degree” by financial blogger Jeanie Ahn, which is a rehash of the included video by Rachel Cruze.

According to Mrs. Cruze, specifically to get through college debt-free a student needs to:

  1. Choose a College You can Afford
  2. Seek out all Opportunities for Financial Aid
  3. Work Your Way Through School
  4. Ask Your Parents for Help

I take no issues with articles like these in that they provide a little bit of food for thought to those who haven’t explored even the most basic options to save and earn money for school. I would highly encourage any student to seek out these opportunities in addition to dozens and dozens more that would shave one’s out-of-pocket costs down to reasonable levels. I’m hoping this upstart blog and upcoming book can shed more specific light on some of these over the next few months.

I also wholeheartedly agree with the article’s #1 being #1. Your first step toward an affordable education should be to stay within your means. That much seems obvious. But it brings up a question: Just what does “can afford” mean?

Continue reading OK, But What Does “Afford” Mean?

Alternatives TO School

choices, options, alternatives


Alternatives To School

Disclosure notice: The following topic causes panic among parents when I bring it up. We’ve looked at alternative schools in the past (here, here, and here for instance) and will do so again in the future, and this makes people a bit uncomfortable. Today we’ll go one step further. I’m going to walk you through (gasp) some alternatives to school that may work for you.

In my last post I broached the idea that college falls short in its outcomes for many students. Perhaps, then, many would be better off to get what they need through other channels. Sacrilegious, I know, but perhaps you don’t need a full-blown college experience to get where you need to go. Before thinking about school by default, perhaps we should challenge the assumption that anything but a college experience would serve you well. The old maxim is true: College isn’t for everybody. Here are a few alternatives to school to consider. Continue reading Alternatives TO School

Certifications for Better Employment

Certifications for Employment

certified grunge retro red isolated ribbon stamp

When I ask students why they want to go to college, the number one response I hear, hands down, is “to get a good job” or “to qualify for a career.” We fear getting stuck in the dead end workforce right out of high school. We often seek higher education for reasons of employ-ability; specifically, a better crack at a good paying white collar sort of job. That’s the way to go, right? Continue reading Certifications for Better Employment

Chart: Social Mobility

Chart: Social Mobility

Upward mobility top and bottom 10

This week’s chart comes from rankings compiled by the Social Mobility Index (SMI) and put into this handy format by Rick Newman in an article for Yahoo Finance.

I appreciate what SMI has done here. I’ve seen tons of rankings put out by the various sources of colleges on all sorts of merits, including all around best colleges, top party schools and stone cold sober schools, best colleges for nature lovers, etc, etc. We must typically take these with a grain of salt because “best” is a subjective credential and the criterion can be misleading for students of other opinions. They also tend to not place all that much emphasis on the sorts of practical financial consequences their students must face once in the workaday world.

However, this ranking system, which incorporates metrics of former students’ financial health, is geared to “highlight the schools that do the best job of helping disadvantaged students graduate with the ability to start a career free of crushing levels of debt.” We’re getting warmer…

Continue reading Chart: Social Mobility

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

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.


The Other Reason to Start at a JuCo

The Other Reason to Start at a JuCo





If you read much about college finances you’ll soon encounter advice to attend a junior college (JuCo) en route to a four-year degree. With rare exception the justification for doing so is the relatively low cost of JuCo credits. The value of the JuCo education is typically expressed only in its relation to obtaining an overall cheaper bachelor’s degree.

Of course this is compelling news, but rarely truly exciting to a bachelor’s-minded student. We tend to equate cheaper with inferior, as is often the case with all sorts of goods and services. However, let’s now focus on another dynamic of the JuCo experience that often gets lost in the conversation: A junior college education can also provide increased earnings potential to someone seeking a four-year degree.

Continue reading The Other Reason to Start at a JuCo

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

Family Help: Intro

Family Help: Intro


The Temptation & The Fall

Perhaps no single set of financial issues vexes parents of teens more those regarding the funding of college. Decisions to help someone in big ways never come easy, and in this arena parents face immense pressures, internal and external, in addition to their innate desires to get their newly adult kids to a good place.

As a result too many parents fuel their kids’ college careers without much regard to their own needs. In doing so they often ensure their kids don’t have to move back in with them later only to find that later they have to move in with their kids. When parents want to help, how do we know how much is too much? Continue reading Family Help: Intro

Let the Filtration Begin

Let the Filtration Begin

Conversion funnel

What We Now Know and What We Soon Will 

Thanks to the exercises in the previous chapters , you now know three very important things (things most college students have no clue of):

1. The specific experience and environment you want college to provide you…the Rank filter,

2. How much you can pay before you run out of money…the Resource filter and

3. The maximum you should pay in total for the experience to prove financially worthwhile…the Return filter.

Now you can begin the process of searching for colleges or programs that will satisfy all your criteria. Fortunately for us in the internet age students armed with foundational objectives can now turn to a number of free websites to begin the otherwise daunting process of filtering through all their college options. Continue reading Let the Filtration Begin