Paying for College May Take a Community

Question: What do they call the person that graduates last in their medical school class?

Answer: Doctor

As most everyone knows, a college education is expensive nowadays.  According to The College Board, the annual cost of attending college in 2015-2016 averaged $19,548 at public schools, plus an additional $14,483 if attending an out of state public school.  At private schools, tuition and fees averaged $43,921.

And that’s just the average.  What about those who attend an Ivy League school?  How much savings is needed to meet that bill?  Let’s see:

My son Archie was born in April of 2015.  Let’s assume he’ll be accepted and will attend the University of Pennsylvania as an 18 year old freshman in September of 2033.  Taking Penn’s current tuition of roughly $65,000/year, a 5% annual increase in college costs, and a 6% annual rate of return in a 529, I would need to save just under $17,500/year in a 529 plan through the end of college in order to have enough to meet the expense.  That’s a lot of money!

Using a 529 plan for savings is a great place to start, but you’ll still need to contribute a lot of money each year.  Are there other options to look at without burying our children in student loans?  Yes, and the answer in many cases are community colleges.  Every year, students transfer from 2 year community colleges to four year universities where they go on to earn a degree.

When I was 18, I didn’t have the slightest idea of what I wanted to do professionally.  I was immature and much more concerned with outside distractions (friends, football, etc) than my school work.  Early in my senior year, I committed to attend a state school to play football.  But after suffering a few concussions that season, I ultimately decided to stay home and attend Bucks County Community College while I figured out what I wanted to do.  I finished some of my prerequisite courses before transferring to St. Joseph’s University.  My community college experience was great, and the professor’s there were every bit as capable as those in my undergraduate and graduate programs.  And, if memory serves, I believe I paid about $2,500 a semester for my coursework, almost all of which transferred to St. Joe’s.  What a deal.

As the men and women profiled in this article show, students are even transferring from community colleges to Ivy League schools!  Let’s update our example to see what the cost savings would be:

Let’s assume my son will instead attend the Community College of Philadelphia for his first 2 years of college, and then transfer to the University of Pennsylvania.  Taking CCP’s current tuition of roughly $8,800/year for 2 years, followed by 2 years at Penn, a 5% annual increase in college costs, and a 6% annual rate of return in a 529, I would need to save just over $9,900/year in a 529 plan through the end of college order to have enough to pay for his education.  That’s a difference of $7,600/year!!

Many people will say they only want to attend a four year college since the perceived quality of a community college may not be as strong.  As some food for thought, here is just a sample of notable people that attended community college for some or all of their post-secondary education:

George Lucas – Director and creator of Star Wars, Modesto Community College, Net worth: $4.7 billion

Steve Jobs – Apple Founder, De Anza Community College, Net worth at death: $10.2 billion

Billy Crystal – Actor/Comedian, Nassau Community College, Net worth: $45 million

Tom Hanks – Oscar winning Actor, Chabot Community College, Net worth: $350 million

Ross Perot – Entrepreneur and Presidential Candidate, Texarkana Junior College, Net worth: $3.9 billion

So if you’re looking for some other options for funding college, don’t forget to look at your local community college.  It could be the most cost efficient path to pay for college.

Question: What do they call the person that went to community college for two years and then graduates from The University of Pennsylvania?

Answer: A Penn graduate

About Patrick Runyen

As a Wealth Manager at Independence Advisors, Patrick Runyen, CPA/PFS, CFP® works closely with clients to implement wealth management solutions. He leverages his technical financial planning and consulting experience to assist clients with investment counseling, retirement planning, estate planning, wealth enhancement, asset protection, tax planning, and other personally significant financial decisions. CLICK HERE TO ASK PAT.

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