By Daniel Gerger, Manhattanville College
According to the 2010 census, more than 40 million adults in the United States, between the ages of 25-64, have some college credit but no bachelor’s degree. New Jersey and New York account for 4 million or 10 percent of this total. Over the past 15 years, I’ve asked almost every adult student sitting across my desk what kept them from returning to college? The answers are almost always the same. Their top concern: How am I going to find the money to go back to school?
Four-year private colleges in New York and New Jersey can cost $450 to $1,000 per credit. Public institutions cost less but are still expensive. Add in the cost of books, transportation, and other student fees and an adult can end up with significant debt. However, you might not know that there are many opportunities to save money and reduce the overall cost.
First, many students are not aware that the fee structure for adults and traditional age students is significantly different. If a traditional student is paying $800 per credit, it is not unusual for adults to pay 20 percent less. Also, some colleges have a locked-in per credit tuition. This means the cost will not increase while a student remains enrolled in that school. Remember, searching for a college is like looking for a car. The sticker price is not usually what you are going to pay.
Also, an adult should look to their employer’s human resources department for help. Some companies offer 100 percent reimbursement while others offer a partial tuition package or a fixed yearly amount. The one caveat is that often the program of study needs to be relevant to the job a person is doing. If you are a graphic designer you probably can’t get your degree in history.
Finally, every student should complete their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). I have had students say to me, “I’ll never get any financial aid because I make too much money.” My answer is fill out the FAFSA, because you will never know if you qualify if you don’t fill out the form. Also, consider that many merit-based scholarships offered by colleges or universities, and private scholarship funders, require all applicants to file a FAFSA. Finally, a student needs to complete a FAFSA to be eligible for state grants. To find out more, go to the Federal government’s FAFSA page.
Don’t let the price of higher education keep you from moving forward. Until you explore your options in financial aid and other programs, you shouldn’t rule out college due solely to cost. In the long run, the cost of not going back to school is much higher. According to a 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, an individual who had a bachelor’s degree earned $71,552 per year while an adult who had some college but no degree earned $46,228. Over the course of a 40-year career, the person with the B.A. earns more than a million dollars than the non-degree holding individual.
Daniel Gerger is the Director of Continuing Education, Summer Sessions and Special Programs at Manhattanville College, and lives in Maplewood, N.J., with his wife and three children.