Alternative ways to cut college costs abound

In today’s age of increasing tuition costs and higher interest rates, paying for a college education can seem overwhelming. However, with a little research and initiative, there are a number of alternative ways students and their parents can cut college costs.

One step that potential college students should take before enrolling in college is to obtain college credit while still in high school. At Tallahassee’s Leon High School there is a dual enrollment program that allows Leon students to take high school and select college courses simultaneously.

“The students can take these classes without any extra cost, but they have to have at least a 3.0 (grade point average) or higher prior to enrollment,” said Jerry Hassler, a guidance counselor at Leon.

Amber West dual enrolled while in high school in Miami, and she is reaping the benefits of doing so.

“I’ve taken advance classes in high school, and now I don’t have to take certain college classes at FAMU,” said West, 19, a sophomore nursing student from Miami. “It’s great because it cuts back on tuition.”

In addition, parents can help cut college costs before enrollment by purchasing savings bonds. Once a savings bond is cashed, the purchaser receives the original amount he paid for the bond as well as the accrued interest.

“My parents had a savings bond for me since I was about 5,” said Alicia Davis, 21, a junior computer science student from West Palm Beach. “We now use it to pay some of my college expenses.”

Another option to cut college costs is for parents to take out a home equity loan.

“A home equity is a type of loan that lets a home owner borrow money by using the equity as a collateral,” said Alexandria Caldwell, an Envision loan officer. “If a parent is buying a house then they can use their loan to help pay some of the student’s college expenses.”

For parents who decide to pay out of pocket to fund their child’s college education, programs such as tax credit reimbursement can be a suitable payback. There are two tax credits a taxpayer may be eligible to receive: the Lifetime learning credit and the Hope credit.

To be eligible to receive either credit, participants must be single parents with an income that does not exceed $50,000 or a married couple with an income that is equal or less than $100,000.

“The learning credit is for upper classmen, and it’s when the tax payer claims 20 percent of the first $5,000 that they had to pay,” said Hunter Benberry, a financial aid consultant at FSU. “The Hope scholarship is $1,500 for the first- and second-year college students and is based on the parents’ income.”

Becoming an independent student, a student who is no longer claimed as a dependent on their parents’ tax return, can give a student more of an advantage to receive free money.

Angela Peterson, a senior registration officer at FAMU, said that some of the guidelines for registering as independent include “if you are married as of the day you apply, if you have kids or other dependents who receive half of your support, if both parents are deceased, and/or if you are a veteran of the U.S. armed forces.”

If a student plans on attending an out-of-state university, a viable money-saving option would be to move to the state in which that particular university is located for at least a year in order to establish residency. Once a student has established residency in that state, they are then eligible for in-state tuition rates.

Peterson also explained that students seeking to cut college costs, particularly at FAMU, could look into working at the university fulltime, which would allow them to receive a deduction in tuition cost. These programs are called Administrative and Professional and University Support Personnel and System Employee, and they allow full-time employees to take up to six credit hours for free.

After graduation, students can retroactively cut college costs by participating in community service. Benberry suggested enrolling in programs like the National Civilian Community Corps., which is an Americorps program that requires about a year of community service. Once the year is completed, the student can receive approximately $5,000 to use toward tuition reimbursement.