14 Colleges With Tuition Bargains

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Last Updated Dec 18, 2009 5:03 PM EST

With college costs soaring ($25,143 is the average annual cost at private schools) and 529 savings plans shrinking, cash-strapped parents are getting help from a surprising source — the schools themselves. Quite a few private and public colleges have begun offering creative financing tuition deals to help families socked by the recession. After many years in which college costs have been rising faster than inflation, some administrators are recognizing that they could price themselves out of the market. "The cost of a higher education is increasingly becoming more than families feel they can afford," acknowledges Margaret L. Drugovich, president of Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y.

To be sure, colleges and universities have long offered financial aid to strapped parents. More than half the current freshman class at Princeton, for example, has received a need-based grant, averaging $33,000 a year. And the cost of college has risen so high that even parents with solid incomes are eligible. Bringing home $200,000? No problem, especially if you have more than one child in college.

The following schools have instituted new financial assistance programs in response to the economic crisis. Yes, there may be a dash of marketing mixed in with the altruism. But if it helps pay the tab, who cares?

Emergency Help

Some schools are stepping forward with emergency measures to help families who never thought they’d need it.

  • Long Island University: Trustees, administrators, faculty and staff have contributed $300,000 for emergency loans to undergrads at LIU’s C.W. Post campus in Brookville, N.Y., and its Brooklyn campus. The loans are for families whose financial situation changed in the past year, such as a parent or student losing a job. Loans of up to $2,500 per semester are available, repayable over 12 months starting six months after the student graduates. There’s no interest for the first year, 5 percent interest after that.
  • Washington & Jefferson College: The Washington, Pa., school’s Give It Forward Together (GIFT) program provides grants to students whose families have suffered job loss or, because of credit tightening, no longer receive financial assistance. Washington & Jefferson has $200,000 available for GIFT grants.

Private College, Public Price

Some private schools are slashing tuition to become more competitive with less-expensive public schools.

  • California Lutheran University: The Guarantee Scholarship lets incoming students who are also admitted to UCLA or the University of California, Santa Barbara, attend this Thousand Oaks, Calif., school for the cost of either of those public colleges. CLU estimates this program saves students as much as $16,000 a year.
  • Davis & Elkins College: OK, this one applies only to a tight geographic region, but given the savings, maybe it’s worth moving: High school students from any of the seven counties near the Elkins, W.Va., college who have a GPA of 2.5 or higher can attend Davis & Elkins at the in-state cost charged by West Virginia University. Four-year savings: $60,000.
  • Texas Lutheran University: Any freshman accepted by the University of Texas at Austin or Texas A&M University can attend TLU, in Seguin, for the same price. In-state students accepted at UT save roughly $8,400 a year; ones selected by A&M cut their costs by $11,000 annually.

Free Credits

Some schools keep tuition bills down by offering course credits free of charge, or helping students graduate faster. But, cautions Ray Loewe, president of College Money, make sure your student is academically and emotionally prepared to take on a heavier workload.

  • Cleveland State University: Ohio residents can take 16 credits a semester for the price of 12. Students who sign up can save $330 per credit hour and graduate in four years.
  • Hartwick College: Hartwick just launched a three-year bachelor’s degree program designed to cut $40,000 off a four-year enrollment. The program is demanding, though. Students must take 40 credit hours a year; students on a normal four-year track average 30 a year).
  • Mercer University: Instead of cutting the price, Mercer’s pitch is that they won’t let students drag out their education, which costs you more. It’s basically, “If your kid doesn’t graduate in four years, we’ll keep teaching him for free!” As long as students meet their requirements — do the requisite course work, pass their classes and follow the curriculum advice of faculty advisers — they are guaranteed to graduate from the Macon, Ga., school within four years. If they don’t, the university will pick up the tab for any needed coursework, and even cover the cost of keeping the dorm room. (The school also says 97 percent of students receive some sort of financial assistance.)
  • Rasmussen College: This for-profit school, which has on-campus and online programs in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, North Dakota and Wisconsin, offers on-time graduation scholarships that grow with the size of a student’s credit load. Nine to 12 credits qualify for a $300-per-quarter scholarship; 13 to 16 credits equal a $500 scholarship; more than 16 credits and tuition for the quarter is free.

Still Free After All These Years

A few excellent schools remain tuition free:

  • Berea College, Berea, Ky.
  • The Cooper Union, New York City
  • Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia
  • Deep Springs College, Big Pine, Calif.
  • Webb Institute of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, Glen Cove, N.Y.

More on MoneyWatch:

  • Jeff Wuorio

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