Free College: Will It Work?

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With student loan debt reaching $1 trillion last year and college tuition costs continuing to skyrocket, folks are looking for any way possible to make a college education more affordable. In Michigan and California, officials are proposing “cost-free” tuition—cost-free to the student, at least initially, that is.

The “Michigan 2020 Plan” would pay for each high-school graduate who attended Michigan public schools to attend a state university or community college. The plan would be funded through state taxes—by closing loopholes with “no effect on individual taxpayers.”

In California, the University of California system’s proposed “Fix UC” program would allow students to attend college tuition free. In exchange, students agree to pay 5% of their salaries for 20 years after graduation. That sounds a lot like debt payments, doesn’t it?


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No one can deny that the cost to attend some colleges continues to move further out of reach for most families. The cost to attend UC San Diego, for example, is more than $52,000 for four years. With numbers like that, it might be easy to think the only way to pay for it is to go into debt.

But with some research, some smart choices, a lot of hard work, and most importantly, the decision to make debt off limits, you or your child can get a debt-free college education.

First, be smart about your school choices. Public schools in your state will always be less expensive than a private college or out-of-state tuition. Dig even further to find out about living expenses. Compare meal ticket programs and on- and off-campus housing. Could you live at home and commute to class? Remember, college is about the education, not the experience, so you won’t miss out just because you didn’t live in a dorm.

Apply for scholarships. Then apply for more. Applying for scholarships is your new part-time job. Look for online resources that will help you locate scholarships you qualify for. Ask around your hometown too. Many civic organizations offer small scholarships to worthy students. And every little bit is more you don’t have to pay.

Work and save. Your other part-time job is simply earning money for college with any job you can find. And there’s no need to stop working once classes begin. Be prepared, though. Most of your friends won’t understand why you don’t take the “easy way” and get a loan. But remember, when graduation comes around, they’ll be on the hook for an average of $25,000 in student loans. And you’ll be debt-free!

The Graduate’s Survival Guide helps students approaching high-school graduation learn how to make it as a freshman at college and quickly set themselves apart for success.

Parents, if your child is younger, you have more time to prepare. When you reach Baby Step 5, begin saving for college. Talk with an experienced investing advisor like one of Dave’s Endorsed Local Providers (ELPs) to create a college savings plan for your child.

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