Watch These Trends in College Financing

Storytelling plays a big role when adults talk about college financing from earlier eras. Many of us have heard these messages in the stories told:

  • I paid for college myself by working full time and going to school year round.
  • I was awarded so many scholarships, the college had to pay me.
  • I arrived on campus with no money to pay for my classes or books yet graduated with honors.

Today those stories are difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate: college costs are higher, government grants are fewer, and debt-financing is typical.

  • For a teen, working and paying the full cost of college is rare given steep rises in those costs compared to wages.
  • Need-based grants and scholarships are typically aimed at students who are high-achieving and financially needy. Fewer scholarships are aimed at B or C students, which are the grades of many typical adolescents.
  • Merit scholarships are often awarded to students from wealthier families who have better access to good schools and other academic resources.
  • A needy student who shows up on campus without financial aid and housing secured, is likely to be sent home.

Let me highlight three emerging trends that are worth watching:

Studying Away: While some colleges abroad cost less, housing and living costs expenses can be pricey. And, fees for non-resident students can eliminate advertised cost differences. Still, I like that U.S. students are exploring colleges in other countries and perhaps using world language and independent living skills more. (U.S. Department of State offers guidance on studying outside the U.S. at

Income Share Agreements (ISA): In this option, colleges cover students’ costs while they earn a degree. When students graduate and secure employment, they are required to pay a percentage of their earnings over a designated period. Australia uses this model; in the U.S., Purdue University is piloting this approach. This strategy incentivizes colleges to better support students with degree completion so that they can fulfill these obligations. (Information on Purdue’s ISA:

Raise Me: Financial aid officials that I talk with are hopeful about, which allows students to earn scholarship dollars for achievements during high school. Colleges who participate, award dollars earned through the program for students who are admitted. It is possible to raise significant college funds this way. (Information on Raise Me:

Today, college financing practices can make it hard for families to understand true costs, aid applications, and whether college will be affordable.

  • Several expensive colleges are also well-endowed and act as our nation’s best education grant makers. These colleges may provide tens of thousands in scholarships to needy and talented students who are admitted. Students applying to these colleges may receive aid packages with higher grants and lower loans than students attending less expensive colleges.
  • Students from low-income families may qualify for Perkins loans with maximums of $5,500 annually for undergraduates. Yet, Perkins loans can be added to federal subsidized and unsubsidized loans potentially burdening poorer families with more debt than higher income families.
  • High-income families may find themselves ineligible for need-based financial aid. Many are opting for in-state public colleges to benefit from subsidies appropriated from taxes via state budgets. These families can save $20,000 or more in college costs using this option and save even more if their student qualifies for merit scholarships.

I direct families to colleges with costs that are balanced with educational value, meaning that academic expectations are higher than high school and where students become stronger writers and thinkers. I tend to avoid colleges with great resources that can only be accessed by honor students, graduate students, or limited groups. And, I encourage students to take classes to increase earning potential, even when they are majoring in another field. Let me know how I can help your family identify and evaluate colleges to get the most value for your money.