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Education Savings

As College Costs Rise, Students and Families Consider Alternatives

Community College, Vocational Training, or Just Some Time Off

For parents with young children, the rising cost of college can be overwhelming. Will the kids be able to attend college? If so, will they graduate with large debts?

In 2013, tuition, fees, room and board averaged almost $40,000 per year at a private school and almost $18,000 per year for an in-state student at a four-year public institution, according to the Trends in College Pricing report by The College Board. With total costs expected to rise by an average of 5% each year, those figures could double by the year 2030.

So parents are taking a closer look at alternative educational paths that might reduce the costs.

Community College

Some families stretch dollars by choosing a community college for the first two years, says College Savings Foundation Chair Mary Morris. Community colleges give students a chance to figure out what they want to do and gain maturity before finishing at a four-year university, she says.

"Sending an 18-year old to a four-year school without a support group can be really tough," Morris says. "If the student isn't focused and committed yet, it may not be the right time to start."

Technical and Vocational Programs

Technical training programs -- which often do not require a four year degree -- are quite fulfilling for some students, Morris says.

"If a student has the interest and aptitude, they can train for technical programs ranging from medical technicians to computer-assisted design and drafting to forensics and homeland security specialists," she says.

These programs are often found both at community colleges and in stand-alone vocational schools.

Young Entrepreneurs

Some people embark on self-directed careers without a college education.

"There are plenty of opportunities for individuals, enrolled in college or not, to be exposed to entrepreneurial environments," says Tameka Montgomery, Associate Administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Entrepreneurial Development. "The key is for someone who is interested in entrepreneurship to surround or immerse themselves in environments that foster creative thinking and innovative approaches to challenges or goals that are set before them.”

Working and Saving

Others decide to work before attending college, building up savings and potentially getting an employer's help with tuition costs. "We are a nation of lifetime learners," Morris says.

Students may decide to return to college after working for a few years because they understand how a degree or a few courses will help them advance in their field or improve their business, she says. Also, once in the workforce, they may be eligible for tuition reimbursement programs from their employers.

In some cases, the combination of savings and workplace funding may allow a student to graduate with little or no debt.

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