college

Can't afford tuition? Try these colleges

According to FinAid.org, the Web-based guide to student financial aid, tuition increases an average of 8 percent each year. That translates to a $2,374 savings over four years for students attending an in-state public college. While Maryland and Kansas are currently the only two states with public college tuition freezes, several individual institutions including Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., and Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill., have instituted tuition freezes for the 2009 to 2010 school year.

Fixed-rate tuition plans

Similar to tuition freezes, fixed-rate tuition plans allow incoming students to lock in their current tuition price for up to five years, saving families some inflation costs. FinAid.org reports that over 30 individual institutions throughout the country as well as all Florida and Illinois public colleges currently offer a fixed-rate tuition plan.

FinAid.org also reports that program parameters vary significantly among schools. While some fixed-rate plans only cover tuition expenses, others cover the total cost of attendance. Because fixed-rate plans vary in terms of costs covered as well as how the program operates, some schools force fixed-plan students to lock in their tuition at a rate that's slightly higher than for the nonfixed tuition price. Others don't, so it's difficult to calculate how much families will save.

Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org, says before signing on, families should make sure they can meet any course, hour or grade-point requirements and should ask what happens if the student switches majors, studies abroad or takes a semester off for an internship or cooperative learning program.

"Families need to be absolutely aware of what they're paying and what the tuition plan's restrictions are," he says. "Once you're locked in, sometimes it's hard to back out."

A full list of fixed-rate tuition is available at FinAid.org.

Single subject institutions

"We offer all our students a four-year education that's worth over $100,000 for free," says William Murray, director of enrollment management for the Webb Institute in Glen Cove, N.Y. "We can do that because we're small and we're supported by a sizable endowment."

The Webb Institute isn't for everyone. Accepting just 26 students per year, all of whom major in naval architecture and marine engineering, the school lacks the sprawling campus, endless class choices and on-campus amenities typical of most universities. It also doesn't have students desperately searching for financial aid.

At subject-specific schools like the Webb Institute, the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, City University of New York's Teachers Academy, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass., and The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, an engineering, art and architecture college in New York, students give up academic exploration in favor of a targeted degree without tuition costs.

Small, selective and supported by a generous endowment created by donors in that specific field, single subject institutions are designed for focused students who know what they want and won't settle for anything less.

Loan-free schools

Students stressing over post-graduation loan repayment, fear no longer, at least with this group of schools. To increase economic diversity, 18 institutions throughout the country have eliminated student loans from their financial aid packages, replacing them with scholarships, grants and work-study jobs.

"Once we find out what a student's financial need is, we meet it 100 percent with scholarships," says Robin Moscato, director of financial aid for Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., the first no-loan institution in the U.S. "That doesn't mean that no students borrow, but the average need-based loan for a graduating senior is under $2,500."

Not bad for a school that charges $34,290 per year in tuition alone. While schools like Princeton, Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., and Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., eliminate loans for all students, a wealth of others, including Duke University in Durham, N.C., and Tufts University in Medford, Mass., offer no-loans packages to low-income students only.

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