College Savings: 10 Out of the Box Ways Cut the Cost of Education

College Savings. Out of the box Thinking. Cardboard box with a college mortar board and diploma flying out of it

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Are you’re looking for college savings when trying to get a university education? This blog will give you plenty of out of the box and unconventional options for college savings.

If you take to heart just a few of these ideas it could save you $10,000 or more.

The college landscape is changing so rapidly that savings can be found in the most unusual places. Especially if you’re willing to research and question conventional thinking and dig a little deeper.

This is blog #5 in our College Savings Series. Scroll to the bottom of this page for links to the entire series.

College Prices Are Rising Faster

In the past 30 years, college costs have risen faster than gasoline, eggs, homes, and gold. As in any industry where prices are rising, there are always innovators who are creating ways to get the job done more conveniently and for less money.

In this article, we’ll present 10 of the many ways we’ve discovered to maximize college savings. Follow our advice and you’ll be able to to get that college degree for much less.

1. Community Colleges Cost 78% Less Than University

We’ve long advocated for students to consider community colleges for a number of reasons:

a) If you are uncertain about your major

Community college is the perfect place those young adults who aren’t sure what their major will be to get their general education credits out of the way for a lower cost. Don’t send your child to a university or community college if they don’t really want to put the effort into a college education. This is a waste of money and a frustration to students and instructors who really want to get an education.

b) If you are struggling academically

Community colleges usually offer remedial classes like a 092 college preparation math or English. And with some private tutoring even struggling students who put in the work can succeed and move on to higher-level classes. According to an Atlantic Magazine article, more than 40% of high school students who attend community college need to take a remedial / catch-up course in at least one subject.

c) They offer smaller classes

By the way, all of our kids attended community college classes in high school (dual enrollment) and we loved the fact that the class sizes were comparatively small (usually less than 30 students) and that classes were taught by experienced professors, not graduate assistants.

d) They provide tuition savings

The difference in tuition is substantial. If you compare in-state tuition at a state-run university to the tuition of an in-state community college you’ll see savings of 40 to 77%.

We’ve seen great improvements in the cooperation between community college and universities in our area when it comes to accepting transfer credits. But it’s always a good idea to be proactive in talking with a future 4-year school about the If financial freedom is a goal – then choosing to start at a smaller school is a MoneySmart option.

Comparison of Several State Schools vs Community Colleges Tuition.

Check with your area schools and let us know what you find (2020 prices).

Arizona: Arizona State: Annual Tuition: $11,000 / 30 credits = $366.66 per credit
Maricopa Community Colleges – Arizona: $84 per credit Savings: 77%

Idaho: Boise State: Annual Tuition: $ 6876 / 30 credits = $229.2 per credit
College of Western Idaho: $136 per credit hour Savings: 40%

Texas: Angelo State University – Texas: $7,802 / 30 = $260.00
Howard College – San Angelo TX: $77 per credit hour Savings: 70%

Pennsylvania: Penn State University – $16,572 / 30= 552.40 per credit hour
Community College of Philadelphia: $153 per credit hour Savings: 72%

e) Some Community Colleges offer 4-year degree options

Are you aware that some community college systems have been accredited to confer 4-year undergraduate degrees?

Check out the 22 states that have approved community colleges to offer four-year degrees.  This may not sound like a revolutionary idea, but it really is.

When you consider that community college tuition is usually 40 to 77 percent less than local universities, this is a great option for students wanting to graduate debt-free.

This idea is catching on, but as you might expect is also facing some strong opposition from universities who view this competition as lost revenue. Several states limit the number and/or type of 4-year degrees that community colleges can offer.

Learn more about the community college bachelor’s degree movement.

– 2014 Article  from
– 2018 Article from

2. Save Money with AP / Dual Enrollment

Many high schools offer students the opportunity to earn college credit while taking high school classes.

And the cost to earn the credit is minimal, sometimes only the test fee of around $80 and other times there is no fee at all.

Other school districts allow high school students to take some classes at a nearby community college while still attending classes at their high school.

This dual enrollment option is gaining popularity. If your high school offers these options, and your student can graduate with between 15 and 30 college credits they can save substantial amounts of money, by cutting a semester to one full year off of college tuition.

Finding Scholarships is another Out of the Box way to cut the cost of college. Watch this interview with Jocelyn Pearson where Steve and Annette interview her and find out how she graduated Debt-Free.

3. Accelerated Learning – 22 months to Degree

A couple of years ago we met a super-smart mom who helped her then 15-year-old son earn his bachelor’s degree in 22 months.

He accelerated his degree program by taking a series of CLEP and DANTES tests and running them through Charter Oak College’s accredited online program.

The cost for his degree was only $3100 and then went on to law school. He is now an assistant district attorney in Texas.

Get more details about the program here (and a special discount code – we do receive a small commission if you choose to sign-up for the program, but we truly believe that this program is very worthwhile for families looking to save on college).

4. Military Academies – Free Education

We know several people (kids and adults) who have attended and graduated from our U.S. military academies. It’s not an easy road, but it can be very rewarding. It is said that the value of an academy education is in the neighborhood of $250,000 to $350,000.

Most candidates start preparing to apply in their high school freshman or sophomore year. There is a stringent list of requirements that must be met to qualify for nomination by your US Senator or Congressman. Here is a list of requirements – updated April 2017: Congressional Research Organization .pdf

Beyond the grueling academic and physical regimens that cadets are required to perform under, there is also a required length of military service after graduation.

Appointment to any of our military academies is a great privilege and to serve our country is an honor. If you have a child who is focused on this goal – please do all you can to help them prepare – this is an awesome calling.

5. Tuition Free Universities

Years ago we were made aware of Hard Work U – College of the Ozarks – where students work campus jobs in exchange for a tuition-free college experience.

Students are still responsible for paying for room and board. Since that time, we have heard of several more universities that don’t charge tuition.

Here is a list of 24 schools that are tuition-free for most students – some tuition waivers are based on grades and financial need. We compiled this list from several articles – links below:

  1. Alice Lloyd College
  2. Antioch College
  3. Barclay College
  4. Berea College
  5. College of the Ozarks
  6. Cornell University
  7. Curtis Institute of Music
  8. Deep Springs College in California,
  9. Duke University
  10. Harvard University
  11. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  12. Princeton University
  13. Stanford University
  14. Texas A&M University
  15. United States Air Force Academy
  16. U.S. Coast Guard Academy
  17. United States Merchant Marine Academy
  18. U.S. Military Academy – West Point
  19. United States Naval Academy
  20. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  21. Vanderbilt University
  22. Webb Institute
  23. Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades
  24. Yale University

We used the following articles as source material for the list above:

6. Jobs that offer Tuition Reimbursement

There is a growing list of companies that have found value in investing in their employees’ education. Tuition reimbursement programs are available from these companies:

In a past blog, we presented a list of 34 employers who offer tuition reimbursement to part-time workers. We know this list isn’t complete, but please refer to it and save a ton of money.

Many companies have a limit on the amount of tuition they will cover each year. Some also require a particular grade in a class for payment to be received. If you can get it, tuition reimbursement is a great incentive to get the education you want at a price you can’t refuse.

7. Save Money on University Lodging

Living expenses can add up quickly and so can the savings with one simple change. It’s been called the $6,000 commute.

Living at home while attending a nearby university or community college saves between $5000 and $7000 each year – when compared to living in a dorm room on campus.

Another option is to become a Resident Assistant. An RA is basically a student leader who lives on the floor of a dormitory. They are responsible for being an advocate and overseer for the students on that floor. In exchange for serving, RAs are usually given free room and board.

8. Universities with Flat Fee Tuition

About three years ago College for American a branch of Southern New Hampshire University teamed up with a number of large employers to offer an inexpensive degree option. The corporation involved included McDonald’s, Easter Seals, Gap, Con Agra Foods, Grifols, Anthem, and others.

As a result of this collaboration, they establish three flat-priced Bachelors’ and two Associate degree programs. The degree programs now include:

  • Associates in General Studies
  • Associates in Healthcare Management
  • Bachelors in Communications
  • Bachelors in Management
  • Bachelors in Healthcare Management

The tuition for a Bachelors’sdegree is $10,000 – including books and fees. Students who enroll in the course of study complete competencies, instead of classes. Complete a benchmark and move on to the next. Complete all 120 competencies and earn your degree.

9. Get a University Employees Discount

Our last out-of-the-box cost-cutting tuition option may just seem crazy, but hear us out. Did you know that many universities offer employees and sometimes their children discounted or tuition-free educations?

So, what if instead of co-signing for loans, or paying for your child’s education, mom, dad or the child got a job at the university?

We’ve seen many families work this strategy successfully, and recently saw an even more beneficial twist.

A family friend of ours recently was married to a guy she met at an Arizona university. They are both really smart kids, graduating with honors.

The wife applied for a job at the medical school associated with the university after her husband was accepted into their medical program.

She has a good paying job, he goes to medical school and instead of racking up $500,000 in medical school bills, they’re able to pay for school and put some money in the bank.

10. Find an Affordable University

A couple of years ago we read an extensive research article in Money Magazine that rated the most affordable universities in the United States. They didn’t only look at tuition but evaluated a number of other benchmarks including class size, student/teacher ratio; average earning potential for graduates after 3 years; the number of tutors/support staff; 4-year graduation rate and many, many more.

This article will help you formulate questions to ask any school your family may be interested in. It’s an invaluable resource.

Read this Money Magazine Article

The college landscape is changing and savvy students and their families will be looking for new opportunities to cut the cost of tuition and get the education they want.

Let’s not settle for average thinking and average amounts of student loan debt—let’s help our kids be above average, creative thinkers who see the high cost of college as an opportunity for out of the box, MoneySmart thinking . . . and huge savings.

With so many options – we’re sure that you’ve seen or discovered some others that have saved you money. We’d love to hear you MoneySmart strategies!

10 Out of the Box Ways for BigTime College Savings!

Read all of the Debt-Free College Blog Series Here:

  1. 6 Ways High Schoolers can Crush College Costs
  2. Student Loan Forgiveness Programs: How to get loans discharged legally
  3. Is There Gold at the End of the Scholarship Rainbow? Hack!
  4. How to Maximize FAFSA and Pell Grant Money!
  5. 10 Out of the Box Ideas for Big Time College Savings
  6. How to Eliminate College Debt
  7. How one kid got a college degree in 22 months for $3100 (you could too)

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