5 ways to save money on your college degree

Written by |

Getting a college degree doesn’t have to break the bank. Here’s a new way for you to cut the cost in half and still get the degree you want from a traditional 4-year college.

First off though, there’s been a lot of negative press about the value of a college degree. Yet the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco says college grads earn $800,000 more over a lifetime than someone who doesn’t have a college degree.

Yes, you can be very successful without a college degree. For some people, college is just not their thing. They don’t like academics or they have a different vision for their life from an early age. That’s all well and good.

But most people though, the dividing line for creating a good income in life is college.

Look at the directional schools

There’s been a big change in education over the last several years. A huge percent on inbound students and current students go to a state school. State schools have historically gotten roughly 50% of their money from the state and the other 50% from students and parents. But through the last several years of financial difficulty, many states have shrunk the amount of tax money that supports state universities. It’s not uncommon for the state’s contribution to be 25% of overall operating costs, not 50% any longer. So there’s a heavier burden on student shoulders.

In many states, you have a flagship state university and then there are the ‘directional schools.’ The latter is simply any school with a description of where it is geographically located in the name, like Central Michigan University where I got my master’s degree. These kinds of schools tend to devote more of their money to classroom teaching, rather than to faculty research. They have higher efficiency and lower tuition.

So if you look at a directional school, you may save a substantial amount of money on education.

Qualify for in-state tuition at an out-of-state college

In years past, one common way to get in-state tuition in a state that wasn’t yours would be to move to that state after high school. Using the idea of the ‘gap year,’ young people would basically take a year off to work in a new state and establish residency. Following that year, they could then qualify for the in-state tuition rate at a state school. But many states are tightening the restrictions on this.

That’s led to a new business I read about in The New York Times. At least one entrepreneur has started a business that will shepherd you through the process of qualifying for in-state tuition when you’re an out-of-stater. But while it is totally legal, it is of questionable ethics.

Fortunately, there’s a different way to accomplish the same thing without the ethics concerns and it’s called the Academic Common Market.  It’s a consortium of 16 states that let you study in a specialized field at an out-of-state college while paying in-state tuition rates. Give it a look and see if it meets your needs.


Participating states include Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Go with honors!

I’ve long talked about cutting college costs by doing your first 2 years at a community and then transferring to 4-year school that you plan to graduate from.

Now a new program called AmericanHonors.org takes it a step further. They will guarantee your admission to big name schools if you do the required coursework and maintain your grade point average.

Schools like Auburn, the University of Arizona, and George Mason have partnered with American Honors to extend this offer to students, according to The Kansas City Star.

Meanwhile, several other schools participate in the American Honors curriculum program, but don’t necessarily guarantee admission. Those schools include Amherst, DePauw University, George Washington University, Middlebury College, Occidental, Ohio State, and UCLA.

The cost to go the American Honors route is about $3,000 a semester in tuition and fees. While that is a bit more than community college, having that added layer of a big name school guaranteeing your admission down the road is nice.

Look at employer reimbursement options

Years ago, I got a job with IBM as a bill collector after college because I knew they would pay for my master’s degree. I had to pay for my own books and I had to get a B or better in a course or I’d get no reimbursement. You better believe I got a 3.9 GPA in my first quarter in grad school. I never got less than a B during the rest of the time there because I wanted the tuition paid for my master’s in business management. Thanks, IBM!

Today, you’ll find different employers who offer the same thing. Chipotle joins other major corporations, including Starbucks and Chrysler, in announcing recent expansions of or additions to tuition reimbursement programs.

Starbucks will pay half your tuition for the freshman and sophomore years. If you matriculate and make it to junior year, they then offer full tuition reimbursement for both junior and senior year. This carrot is being offered in partnership with Arizona State and their online curriculum. To qualify, Starbucks employees are only required to work a minimum of 20 hours a week; there is no minimum length of service time required to qualify. Perhaps best of all, there is no handcuff requiring you to stay with the corporation after graduation.

The Lone Star State’s solution to the tuition problem

The state of Texas has come up with a solution to the high cost of college that I’m hoping will be a model for other states to follow.


Despite what you may have thought of Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential aspirations, he was on target with a promise he made in his State of the State address: To allow the state’s university system to deliver a standard four-year degree for a total cost of $10,000.

The Texas Tribune  reports that the first degree available for $10,000 is in information technology. Four-year degrees in business administration and organizational leadership are next on tap.

Among the 10 participating Texas colleges are Angelo State University, University of Texas at Arlington, and Texas A&M University-Commerce.

Florida has a different way to get to the same goal. They’ve converted almost all of their 2-year community colleges to offer 4-year bachelor degree programs. In the process, many of these schools have changed their status from community colleges to state schools.

A final word to parents and students

For you parents, don’t borrow yourself into oblivion to pay for college. Your child can go to a local community college for the first two years and then finish up at a standard four-year school.

And if you as a student are responsible for the bill, don’t over-borrow for four years of college. Your entire school debt for four years shouldn’t exceed your likely first year earnings in your desired field of study.

  • Show Comments Hide Comments