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How to Plan for Higher Education

higher education

Welcome back to the Young Adult’s Perspective series. In our last issue, we talked about first time homeownership for young adults. Today, we will be talking about pursuing higher education. At this point in the year, when college age students are preparing to go back to school for the fall semester, it may seem strange to discuss going back to school, since enrollment has already been decided. But it is always important, regardless of the time of year, to plan your finances for the future. Whether you have never pursued higher education or if you are planning to go into graduate programs, it’s always wise to make a plan for the future. By reviewing current trends and personal finances, you might find that your goal of earning a degree is more possible than you might think.

Higher Education Statistics:

In order to help you make a more informed decision about pursuing higher education, we’ve pulled some interesting figures. In 2018, there were over 71 million people aged 18 and older whose highest level of education was a high school diploma, while another 46 million had entered college, but were unable to earn a degree. This accounts for more than a third of the total US population. The total number of people in that same age range who had some kind of continued education is 104 million, with 80 million of them having at least a Bachelor’s degree. While there is a greater percentage of people who do not have degree in the US, it is growing more likely that those who enter higher education will graduate, which will slowly begin shifting these numbers. For much of the last two decades, the graduation rate from higher education was approximately 50%. Last year, however, the percentage of students completing a Bachelor’s program across all institution types was 60%.

Regarding enrollment, numbers from 2018 show that 14.61 million students were enrolled in public colleges, and another 5.22 million were enrolled in private colleges. Based on the report where those numbers were collected, enrollment is projected to be rising over the next ten years. Similar trends are expected with graduate programs. One report shows that, in 2018, there were 1.305 million part-time graduate students and 1.710 million full-time graduate students. Between these institutions, there were 3.94 million degrees earned in the 2017-18 school year. As with enrollment, the number of degrees earned is predicted to slowly rise, reaching over 4 million/year by the 2024-25 school year.

Affording Higher Education:

While trends and data are important to help you make a decision about pursuing higher education, the truth is that one of the most significant barriers to entry is money. Unfortunately, as the quality of education increases, so does the cost. During the 2017-18 school year, the average cost of annual tuition was $7,054 for public institutions and $30,282 for private institutions. There are certainly places to receive a quality education for less than the average, but the costs are high regardless. Even if you have money saved from working, affording college might still be difficult. What are some ways to make higher education more affordable?

Start Locally:

If you are one of the 117 million Americans who are considering higher education for the first time or are trying again, you may want to consider starting at a community college. Many community colleges offer Associate’s programs for much less than larger state schools or private colleges. Associate’s programs are especially useful to help you get a taste of higher education with less commitment and costs. Often, the credits you earn towards your Associate’s degree can be transferred to a four year college or university if you choose to pursue a Bachelor’s degree afterwards. Some community colleges even offer Bachelor’s programs at a more affordable rate. To learn more about community colleges, use Community College Review.

Scholarships and Programs:

Scholarships are excellent tools to help make higher education affordable. Contrary to common beliefs, you don’t have to be a genius in the classroom or a star athlete in order to earn a scholarship. Many universities offer scholarships for hardworking students who are involved in their communities, are from underrepresented groups and backgrounds, or are first-generation college students. Many organizations offer scholarship assistance as well, such as charitable foundations and mega corporations. Alternatively, for those pursuing graduate-level education, you should inquire about programs that will help pay for or negate tuition payments. Some universities will pay their student’s tuition in exchange for working in a lab or on other university projects. If the education you are seeking is necessary to help your current job, your company may be willing to pay some of your tuition.  

Loans:

For some people, a loan is the best option to finance higher education. A quality federal loan can give you some or all of the money you need to pay for your tuition. While extremely helpful in the moment, be cautious about who you get the loan from and the terms of the loan. It may take you years to fully repay the loan, even if you start working a well-paying job out of college. Worse, you may end up paying thousands of dollars extra due to the interest rates. The person or organization you get the money from may not be willing to readjust the terms of your loan either. Considering these factors, we typically recommend acquiring a loan as a last resort.

If you are experiencing financial difficulty and are looking for a solution, non-profit credit counseling can help you make sense of all your options. ​Contact us today for a free financial assessment with one of our certified credit counselors.


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