For years, I’ve encouraged parents and students to keep an open mind when it comes to college selection.
One observation, from these conversations, is that many parents and students feel that beginning their education experience at a two-year community or technical school is a step down in prestige. Remember, it is not where you attend your first two years of college that dictate the school name on your diploma.
The savings in attending a two-year school first can be dramatic. Go online and compare the cost of attendance of a centrally located four-year university against the same criteria for a centrally located technical school. Make sure to use in-state costs for both. You will find that, last year, the cost for the two-year school represented an annual savings of 28 percent over the four-year school. This is more than the cost of a semester at the four-year school.
Let me share an impressive, true story with you. Sara Oswald, a Midlands woman, just graduated from Harvard University. She entered the job market directly after her high school graduation in 1998. In 2009, she decided to study for an associate degree at our local technical school and enrolled. She took the time to investigate all of her options prior to doing so and found that the school’s foundation, with a couple of hours of work to apply, could provide her with scholarship dollars.
Oswald received $3,000 in scholarship money each year and qualified for the Pell Grant, which has an annual limit this approaching school year of $5,730. In taking the time to do her homework prior to attending, she was able to get the associates degree in two years at no cost to herself and without incurring any student loans.
She was a good student and a member of Phi Theta Kappa for having maintained a 3.5 grade point ratio and was one of 20 on South Carolina’s All-State Academic Team. Because of this, she received recognition that was seen by a Harvard advisor. This professor contacted her and told her of a scholarship at Harvard for Phi Theta Kappa members who had received their associate degree from a two-year technical school and encouraged her to apply. She did.
Oswald won the scholarship for full cost of attendance at Harvard. She took her classes through that school’s on-line program and earned her bachelor’s degree from Harvard in two years. Her total four-year cost for her Harvard degree was $1,890, and that were incidental expenses incurred while studying a summer in Europe. A degree from one of America’s most prestigious schools was hers for less than the cost of one semester’s meal plan at some schools and it was done by taking her preparatory courses at a technical school from which all hours transferred.
Oswald’s advice to prospective students: First, complete federal student aid forms. Second, make sure the credit hours from the two-year school degree transfer. Third, get involved in the school you attend to create networks for life. Finally, read the catalogue, a wealth of information on transfer hours, financial aid and programs that will enhance your education and further your career options.
We can all learn from her experience. Don’t feel it is a step down in status to attend a two-year school. This can be an expensive ego decision. One must remember that the credits would not transfer, nor be accepted in a transfer, if they were not accredited and equal in educational value. The end result is the same: a diploma on the wall from the school where the degree requirements were completed.
With the cost of post-secondary education being what it is, it is now more important than ever to look at the college education with an eye on its return on investment. The goal is minimize investment and maximize return while preparing for a happy and productive career.