Rising tuition spurs focus on solutions

PHOTO/SUBMITTED Penn State Lehigh Valley recently started an educational opportunity program that offers scholarships for students who cannot afford a four-year degree.

As college tuition continues to rise, some employers are taking steps to help employees fund cover the cost by paying part or all of it.

Area colleges and universities, meanwhile, have been looking for ways to offset the high cost.

According to The College Board, the cost of tuition has been rising more quickly than the general inflation rate and more quickly than personal income. But some dents are being made in the upward curve.

Penn State Lehigh Valley, for example, froze tuition for 2017 and 2018, said Denise O’Neill, director of enrollment management at Penn State Lehigh Valley in Upper Saucon Township.

In addition, students don’t have to pay room and board since Penn State Lehigh Valley is a commuter campus, she added. Tuition at Penn State Lehigh Valley is $14,700 for both the fall and spring semester, O’Neill said.

Regarding enrollment, Penn State Lehigh Valley had 922 students for fall 2018 and 929 for 2017.

Penn State Lehigh Valley also has formed strong relationships with community colleges throughout the state, O’Neill said. And it focuses on attracting transfer students who may not have had the best experience at their first college as well as those who served in the military.

In addition, Penn State Lehigh Valley started an educational opportunity program that offers scholarships for students who cannot afford a four-year degree.

Funded by a grant from University Park, Penn State’s main campus, the program allows Penn State Lehigh Valley a way to offer 15 new scholarships this year, she said. The scholarship continues for four years if the student attends Penn State Lehigh Valley full time.

“One of the primary goals is to make sure we have more scholarships that we didn’t have before, rather than having more students taking out loans,” O’Neill said.

At Kutztown University, degree programs are often what draw students to enroll, according to Laura Fahy-Leo, interim director of admissions.

But they can also help convince parents and students that the cost is worthwhile, such as the university’s plans to add a social media and analytics minor this spring and the opening of SMASH, the Social Media Analytics Strategic Hub in September.

The university designed the hub specifically for students in its social media theory and strategy major. The lab is an active learning space that incorporates software and hardware for multiple academic disciplines.

“We are explaining to parents and to grandparents how useful this can be for a career,” Fahy-Leo said, referring to the social media major.

Some point to alternatives to college.

One is to delay college, rather than enrolling right after high school. Delaying a college education could prove beneficial, particularly for those who are unsure whether higher education is the right path.

“I think what you gain from starting off a career path first is focus.” said Mark Byelich, a certified financial planner and principal of Wealth & Advisory Associates of Newtown in Bucks County.

Depending on the path, a young person might also get money for college.

Byelich, who graduated at 29, said he partially funded his higher education through the G.I. Bill after serving in the U.S. Air Force. People can also earn college credits on military bases in addition to any training they get, he said.

Students can also earn college credits while attending trade schools.

Byelich, who serves on the Council Rock School Board, said he knows there is a direct matriculation of students from Middle Bucks Institute of Technology to Bloomsburg University.

“That’s another great alternative,” Byelich said.

Another alternative is to work for a company that will help pay for some of even all of your college education. It’s a strategy many business owners would support and he has seen some companies doing this for their best employees, he added.

“I will certainly help someone become a certified financial planner and help them pay for it and take time for it,” Byelich said. With student loans, “you are going to pay forever…the interest rates are already outrageous.”

One advantage to having high school graduates start working at a job right away is that they can learn whether it is the right fit before they invest in a college education. Not only could the person be collecting a paycheck, but the employer could help them pay for college, taking classes while still employed. This can also work for current employees who want to gain more education.

In addition, people can also use Roth IRA accounts to fund college education, with no penalties for withdrawing funds, he added.

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