PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The average annual cost of tuition at colleges across the country has grown more than 10% over the last five years, with a year of public school now exceeding $9,600 and private school reaching $33,500, according to figures published by The College Board.
So how can Rhode Island parents get ahead to begin saving for their children’s education?
Eyewitness News sat down with Noel Simpson, deputy director of the Rhode Island Student Loan Authority (RISLA), to discuss tips for paying for college. Here’s an overview.Plan. Plan. Plan.
Simpson said it’s never too soon to start mapping out a strategy for college costs. He said making small, regular contributions to a college fund – like part of a child’s birthday money or holiday gifts – can add up over time. ”You can attack it, but the secret to attacking it is planning and don’t try to do it alone,” Simpson said. He also suggested students focus on “courses that will prepare them for college,” in part so they don’t have to take remedial courses that don’t earn college credit.Enroll in a 529 plan.
Many states, including Rhode Island, offer a program that provides a $100 grant to children within their first year of life to begin saving for college. The money is deposited into a CollegeBound Saver account and can be used toward what is known as a 529 plan, a tax-advantaged account that helps families save money for college. (The plan is named for a section of the IRS code.) The accounts can also be established later in a child’s life.Fill out the FASFA.
Some families forget the obvious: filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – better known as the FASFA – can result in a significant boost in college financial support. Nearly 85% of students attending a four-year college qualify for at least some financial aid.
It may sound obvious, but Simpson said it is important for families to understand they shouldn’t “borrow more than they need to to pay for college.” While private loans are an option, government-backed federal loans tend to come with lower interest rates. RISLA has a guide to its student loan options on its website.
Look for scholarships.
Some estimates suggest nearly $3 billion in free scholarship money goes unclaimed every year, so it’s important to keep an eye on all possibilities. Check with guidance counselors. Search the web. Connect with community organizations that offer scholarships. Even the smallest scholarship can be beneficial. Reminder: there is no need to pay for scholarship searches. It can all be done for free.
Consider all options.
With Rhode Island now allowing new high school graduates to attend the Community College of Rhode Island for free for two years, Simpson said it’s important to keep all options on the table – especially if families have little money saved. He said four-year schools will accept most community college credits, which allows them to earn their bachelor’s degree at a discount.