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College tab has an ‘other’ category

Saturday, August 21, 2010  
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By Sean F. Driscoll
BUSINESSROCKFORD.COM
Posted Aug 21, 2010 @ 04:32 PM
Last update Aug 21, 2010 @ 10:59 PM


Tuition and housing aren’t the only college costs preparing to take a bite out of parental wallets this year.

Indirect costs, such as books, transportation, health care and computers, don’t show up on the college bill but can add up to thousands of dollars a year. One dropped laptop or trip to the infirmary can come as an unwelcome surprise to even the most budget-minded families.

And with parents and their college-age children increasingly seeing the value of a postsecondary education, according to a recent Sallie Mae/Gallup survey, preparing for the indirect costs can save money and headaches down the road.

The costs can vary widely from school to school, but budgeting and planning are crucial parts of college.

"No matter how much or how little you plan to contribute to your child’s college education, living expenses and emergencies can arise,” said Paul Golden with the National Endowment for Financial Education. "It’s critical to plan ahead.”

The nonprofit College Board, which runs the Advanced Placement and SAT programs, estimates nearly $2,000 a year for personal costs, such as a cell phone and laundry, $1,100 a year for books and supplies, and $1,000 for transportation.

Renting more than space
Students spend more than $1,100 a year on textbooks on average, according to the College Board, with some books costing upward of $400. At Rockford College, budget-minded students and parents often ask questions about costs at the college bookstore.

"As the main retailer on campus, feedback and complaints always come in,” manager Dawn McCrary said. "The price of a college textbook is a big issue in education and is at the forefront of people’s attention nowadays.”

Follett Higher Education Group, which operates the bookstore, is starting a textbook rental option this year to help defray costs. McCrary said rental can knock 50 percent or more off the cost of a book. Not every book is a good fit for rental — texts with a workbook or removable pages, for example, are designed to be used just once — but the option is already proving popular.

John Francour, a sophomore at the college, 5050 E. State St., was investigating book rentals last week while he was buying his fall texts. Francour, who is majoring in physical education, said he doesn’t want to break the bank at the bookstore.

"I want to save some money,” he said. "The books are just so expensive, it’s ridiculous.”

More ways to pay
Planning for expected and unexpected indirect college expenses is getting more difficult, however, as college costs rise and earnings fall.

The latest Sallie Mae/Gallup survey, "How America Pays for College,” showed that parents and students are digging deeper to finance postsecondary education. The survey, which talked to families of traditional college students attending a four-year school in the 2009-10 school year, showed the cost of attending college up 17 percent from the previous year.

As a result, students and parents are spending more of their own money, tapping more scholarships and grants, and borrowing more to pay for the increasing direct and indirect costs.

"What we’re finding is, while they’re reducing spending overall, they’re willing to spend for things they value, that they see as important in life,” said Bill Diggins, Gallup’s lead researcher on the study. "They’re making trade-offs and taking steps to make it more affordable. They still see college as having great value for them as an investment in the future.”

Reach staff writer Sean F. Driscoll at 815-987-1346 or sdriscoll@rrstar.com. Read his blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/seanfdriscoll/.

WAYS TO SAVE MONEY

Hit the bookstore first: Planning ahead gives students the option to check alternative sources, such as Amazon, eBay and efollet.com. Book rental is becoming a popular option, and there’s always the ever-valuable used-book route.

Check the tech: Gadgets are fun, but make sure students are buying what they really need. Some classes have specific needs. Also check with the school for deals on software, used computers and availability of computer labs. Basic needs include a laptop with wireless Internet, USB drives, an external hard drive to save work and a cell phone (watch those expensive packages).

Scholarships galore: Some are targeted specifically at book costs, and many can be used to cover indirect costs. If not, money saved on tuition will at least ease the pain at the bookstore.

POTENTIAL TROUBLE AREAS

Off-campus living: Savings can be considerable, but rent, groceries and utilities can add up. Avoid the impulse to buy coordinated furniture, and look for deals at secondhand stores, flea markets and in classifieds.

Meal plans: Convenient, but often costly. Check with your child’s college to see what options are available and what happens if there’s money left on the card at the end of the semester.

Cars: Often unnecessary and expensive to keep on campus. Parking permits, maintenance, gas and insurance (not to mention parking tickets) can drive up the cost.

This story appeared at http://www.rrstar.com/businessrockford/x1997911760/Your-college-tab-has-an-other-category on August 21, 2010.

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