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College: Skyrocketing Costs, Student Debt, and Budget-Wise Choices

Not only do student loans and their accompanying debt keep making news, such lending has become big business for the federal government. In fact, federal student loans have nearly doubled since 2007, with the result that the U.S. Department of Education realized a profit of more than $42.5 billion in the past fiscal year. Plus, had Obama and Congress not temporarily lowered student loan interest rates this summer, that figure would have been about $8 billion higher, thus edging out 2011’s whopping $47.9 billion haul.

The other result: Student loan debt now stands at some $1.2 trillion. “That,” says Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, “is a burden which is affecting, for example, the ability of young people to buy a first home, affecting other purchasing decisions they might make, affecting obviously their overall financial condition.”

Meanwhile, Bellevue University’s study,”The Search for Affordable Alternatives: Rising Costs and Massive Student Loan Debt Put College Out of Reach for Many,” found that:

  • 68% of Americans believe degree programs currently cost more than they’re worth.
  • 36% said a degree’s costs have risen disproportionately to its value in the last 5 years.
  • 76% said affordability would be important to them if they were to pursue a degree.
  • 37% said that affordability would be most likely to motivate them to earn a degree in the next five years.
  • Just 40% said that obtaining more education is worth taking on more debt.
  • 55% said they would only pursue a degree if it would not put them into debt.

About such results, Bellevue’s president, Dr. Mary Hawkins, says, “Students of all ages understand the value of earning a degree, but many students are unable to pay more than necessary to earn these degrees. If colleges and universities make their programs more financially accessible, it will give more adults the opportunity to learn the skills necessary to fill the high-tech, high-school jobs of the future.”

So just how much does college cost nowadays? According to the College Board’s “Trends in College Pricing,” on average:

  • At public colleges, in-state tuition and fees rose 2.9% to $8,893.
  • At public colleges, out-of-state tuition and fees rose 3/1% to $22,203.
  • At private colleges, tuition and fees rose 3.8% to $30,094.

Then there’s room and board to pay for, as well as books and school supplies. The latter alone are estimated to add up to about $1,200 at public colleges and $1,244 at private schools.

In other words, we’re talking big bucks here, and costs keep rising. Nevertheless, college and debt don’t necessarily have to go hand in hand. Choice matters and bargains are out there, especially when it comes to in-state tuition. Going public, not private makes a lot of sense, too.

Take a look, for instance, at these three Pennsylvania universities and their 2013-14 tuition costs:

  • Bloomsburg University: $6,622 (in-state); $16,556 (out-of-state)
  • Penn State University: $16,992 (in-state); $29,556 (out-of-state)
  • University of Pennsylvania: $40,594

You get the picture.

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