• Scott Snider

Time is Money: How the Speed of Education Can Affect the Cost of College

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

The average tuition and fees at a public in-state university as of the 2018-2019 school year was $9,716, while the average private institution charged $35,676. Add in another $15K for room & board and other expenses such as books and the total sticker price to attend these types of schools tends to be around $25,000 and $50,000 respectively. As most of us know it normally takes 4 years to graduate from most undergraduate programs. But does it always have to? The phrase that “Time is money” couldn’t be truer when it comes to paying for college. The ability to finish a full program in three years versus four can alter the decision of whether you can afford a college, especially with prices being so high these days. Add to the fact that you not only limit cost, but you also are able to start earning a salary earlier on, and the financial rationale to finish college early is sound.

Despite the argument being so strong for finishing college quicker most people don’t expedite their college experience. In fact, it’s even rare that people end up graduating within the normal 4-year time frame. At most public universities only 19% of full-time students end up graduating on time. Take that even further and fewer than 6 out of every 10 students graduate 6 years after entering college.

When you end up paying for an extra year or two, the cost can begin to really pile up. Many students from the Ponte Vedra area end up going to University of Florida because of the savings on cost and the high-quality education, but the 4-year graduation rate is only at 68% as of 2015. Add on top of that the fact that bright futures no longer is active after your fourth year, and you begin incurring the whole cost of attendance for any extra years after your fourth. So, what can you do to make sure that you graduate on time, or even better yet, graduate early?


1. Take college credit courses while in High School

Whether it’s AP courses or taking the IB curriculum, there are many options available to receive college credit for a whole plethora of courses during your time in high school. These courses can be challenging but can save you from some entry level classes in college. Be sure to do well on your tests at the end of the year as certain schools will only accept these credits with a certain score from your final test. Also be certain that the schools that you plan to apply to accept these credits, as certain schools like Dartmouth don’t accept AP courses as a college credit replacement. The same often goes for dual enrollment classes which use curriculum approved by a local university or community college and can be taught at the high school.

2. Using the College Level Examination Program (CLEP)

The CLEP program offers students the ability to take a test in order to gain credit for certain introductory courses. This allows students the ability to showcase their ability that they may hold in certain areas and allow them to save time on a class that otherwise may have taken a whole semester. Again, these types of credits aren’t accepted by all colleges. Generally speaking, the more prestigious the college, the less likely they are to accept these kinds of credits.

3. Take advantage of the summer

The summer offers plenty of opportunities to save on the total cost of college for students. First, and foremost most colleges offer courses over the summer, and many offer their summer courses at a discount. If you can’t gain a discount on tuition you may be able to gain a discount on housing or other expenses. Some schools offer what is known as “plateau programs” which charges you for a certain amount of credits, but then allows the rest of your credits to be free. If you go home for the summer you can also look to use either your universities online classes or enroll a local community college. In both cases the cost per credit can be significantly cheaper than paying for regular credits, and you also are able to save on housing if you are living back home for the summer.

4. Accelerated programs

Search for accelerated program options that grant students the ability to graduate in less time than normal. There are a good number of programs out there that are geared toward graduating students within 3 years versus the traditional 4. Often time these programs are also meant to be paired with some form of graduate program. A prime example being Rollins college which offers a 3/2 accelerated management program allowing students to finish their undergraduate and MBA program with 5 years versus what traditionally would take 6 years to complete or the Medical Honors Program at the University of Florida which grants students the ability to get their B.S. degree and M.D. degree within 7 years versus what normally takes 8 years.

Many students don’t have any desire to leave college ahead of the normal 4 years. On the other hand, though there are a growing percentage of students who are either motivated to finish early, or extend their education into a graduate program. In that instance these strategies can be a great way to save on the total cost of education. One thing is for certain you don’t want to drag your feet beyond 5 years, especially since the Bright Futures program will not fund students beyond that mark.  

Ian Aguilar is a managing partner of Mellen Money Management, a fee-only, independent financial planning firm locally based in Jacksonville, Florida. In a nutshell, Ian helps clients plan for the financial impact of major life events, so that they are prepared for life's biggest moments. Such an approach has helped his clients live a more fulfilling life. Mellen Money Management’s financial services include investment management and comprehensive financial planning. While their specialty is all things college -- they help families pay less for college and young professionals tackle their student loans. It is their mission to end the student debt crisis one client at a time. To do so they believe the cost of college cannot be solved in a vacuum and that financial trade-offs, like saving for retirement, must be prioritized in a way that one goal doesn't come at the expense of the other.

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