Got a question too embarrassing to ask anyone else? Send it to email@example.com, and we’ll find an expert to answer it for you! This month we have Janet Marthers, M.A. dishing out the real talk.
My wife and I have given up on sending our 11-year-old to college. We’re not poverty stricken, but the idea of affording college feels overwhelming. Should we start training her now to get her a scholarship in some weird sport like Frisbee golf? Help!
—2 Broke 2 Dream
First, I’m assuming you live in Oregon. If you live in another state, it’s important to check out the state-specific opportunities where you reside. (Though in all scenarios, Frisbee golf remains for recreational purposes only.)
For starters, Oregon has recently created Oregon Promise, a program for qualified students to attend community colleges for free. High school graduates with a minimum 2.5 GPA and intending to enroll at college within six months of graduation are eligible. Keep in mind this is for degree-seeking, traditionally aged students—not a way for your 48-year-old dentist to take a free pottery class. Your daughter can earn her associate’s degree and then transfer to a bachelor degree program after having two years of college fully paid for by Oregon taxpayers.
Beyond community colleges, you can consider options through the state university system. Places like Portland State, where she can commute from home to save money, have relatively low tuition because of state subsidies. In addition, she can apply for need-based financial aid if you fill out the FAFSA. Lower-income people are eligible for programs such as Pell Grants. Remember: Grants, unlike loans, are money for college that you do not have to repay. Additionally, the Oregon Opportunity Grant has $140.9 million to give away between 2015 and 2017 for those attending Oregon colleges. If your annual income is under $70,000, the Oregon Opportunity Grant could have a transformative impact on your ability to afford college.
College beyond Oregon may be an affordable option as well—particularly if only attending for the last two years of a degree program. Oregon participates in the Western Undergraduate Exchange, a program where 16 states cooperate to allow selected students to attend school in a partner state, typically paying 1.5 times the tuition that a resident of that state would pay. This rate is considerably lower than the partner states’ non-resident tuition rates. So, for example, not counting any scholarships and financial aid that could drastically reduce these numbers, a Montana resident would pay $19,216 a year for tuition, room, board, and fees, WUE students pay $22,174, and regular non-residents are at $36,806.
Exceptional students may also want to consider some of the wealthiest private colleges in America, because they can be incredibly generous with aid. Princeton’s aid is all grants, no loans. Although the sticker price to attend Stanford is currently $66,696, families earning under $65,000 pay no tuition, room, or board. Small investments in a 529 savings plan starting now would make a dent in whatever amount remains your responsibility.
Lastly, there are work exchange colleges such as Berea and College of the Ozarks, or the tuition-free Deep Springs. While not for everyone, also remember the Armed Service Academies are all expenses paid, in exchange for service.
So stop panicking! There is hope!