Value Education: How Going to a Value College Helped Me Save Money

Most financially prudent people search for a good balance of price and quality when shopping for televisions and groceries and automobiles, but few consider value when shopping for higher education. Accelerated programs give you all the value of a traditional program at a cheaper price. Though tuition costs alone are often a factor in choosing a college, the overall value — the quality of education received for the price — is rarely a reason students and alumni give for choosing their particular schools.

The admissions office of the college where I got my undergraduate degree boasts of the school’s high rank among “best value” colleges on lists compiled by U.S. News & World Reports, Princeton Review, and other publications. On my tour around campus as a prospective student, I heard that the school’s founder, with the legendary foresight that all founders seem to demonstrate, wanted to offer quality education at a price affordable for the middle class. The tour guide also made sure to mention that the school does not go into debt to build a new building — construction does not start until all the money is raised.

Based solely on the financial emphasis in the school’s sales pitch, you could rightly guess that the idea of getting the most for my money was inherent in my education, even though my major was not at all related to finance or economics. When I was a student at this small, private college just over a decade ago, my annual education bill was less than $10,000, with tuition lower (but room and board slightly higher) than that of a state school one of my friends attended. The school’s website says that the tuition, room & board, and a notebook computer (which all freshmen are now required to purchase) currently total $18,514 for all degree programs.

The college also emphasizes high academic standards, a claim I found to be accurate. One of my classmates had spent a few semesters at an Ivy League school, which she found less challenging than our shared college. After I earned my B.A., I immediately went to graduate school at a university whose tuition costs were nearly twice as much as my undergraduate tuition. Were I to evaluate the education I received at both schools, I would grade my “value school” about ten times better than my pricier graduate degree.

Going to a value college had additional financial benefits besides the low tuition and excellent education. With its emphasis on low cost, my alma mater appealed to students whose family incomes were lower than those of students at many other colleges and universities. Few students came wearing expensive clothes or carrying the latest gadgets; I did not feel pressure to spend in order to fit in with my peers. On the contrary, some of my friends thought I was extravagant if I went out to eat because I was wasting the money already spent on my twenty-meal-per-week meal plan.

In keeping with its emphasis on low costs, the college itself offered many affordable on-campus activities, such as dances, $2 movies, and countless extra-curricular clubs and organizations. When I wasn’t studying, I always had plenty to do, mostly for free. Plus I didn’t have to use gas to go off campus for entertainment.

All in all, choosing a value college was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Though I realize that college experiences vary from school to school and person to person, going to a value school definitely paid off for me. My parents (who paid for my tuition) saved on fees; I learned how to enjoy myself without spending a lot of money, a habit that still benefits me today. If you are looking for a college or university, I highly recommend looking at schools on a list of “best values.” As with other major purchases, finding a balance of price and quality in education is often better than considering price alone.

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5 Responses to Value Education: How Going to a Value College Helped Me Save Money

  1. killian says:

    This is a great point. A college education is one of the most expensive purchases that people make during their lifetime, and rarely do they look for the best value. It’s one area where everyone tries to get into the best college by name (kind of like everyone trying to buy the most expensive car) rather than what is the best college (the best car) for them. Maybe it would sell better if we called it a “honda education” vs a “ferrari education”

  2. reginald says:

    My father made finding a value college quite easy for me. he said that I had $30,000 to spend for my entire college education. If I had any of the money left over, it was mine to keep. If I spent more, it was my responsibility to pay the difference.

    I chose value so I could graduate debt free. It was a great education in finances I would have never gotten if he had just said, I’ll pay wherever you want to go.

  3. Excellent post Shannon!

    I went to a community school (call it the generic vs. name brand of higher education) for the 1st 2 years, then transferred with an associates degree to a 4 year University and finished the last 2 years there. I saved a bundle doing that!

    I had a teacher in High School who told me, “Why go to a 4 year school at the outset? Both schools cover the same basic requirements in the first 2 years, and they’ve got to have a library, right?”

    His point was well taken.

    And I can’t say how much it annoys me to read articles in Money Magazine stating how important it is to save for a child’s college tuition. It is important, don’t get me wrong, but these stories always imply that every child is entitled to a free ride to a 4 year, brand name University.

    My wife and I are saving for our children’s college tuition, but they will be aware that we’re not cover the complete cost, and they’ll have to do some part time work like their mom and dad. :)

  4. Hilary says:

    If you aren’t saving your money for an education, what are you saving for?

  5. Stevo says:

    Upromise is a great service where you can earn and save money for your 529 College Fund … I linked E-Rewards to Upromise, so I can take surveys online, and the money goes into my 529. I’ve gotten to the point where I can earn a couple hundred bucks a quarter for the fund, all of which doesn’t come out of my pocket.

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