‘Tis the heart of FAFSA season and though I’m on deadline (1 week till most priority financial aid applications are due) and buried under a mound of paperwork, I wanted to take a quick break to share the contents of a new study. The report, produced by the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University and the State Higher Education Executive Officers, shows that state appropriations for higher education have increased in 31 states for the 2013 fiscal year.

 That’s the good news.

Less good: Florida, my home state, is not among them. In fact, of the 50 states, only Rhode Island had a worse decline than Florida, which saw an 8% decline in state higher ed funding in the past year.

Though all of the higher ed funding gains were modest at best, I am cautiously optimistic about the prospects for price stabilization and general educational improvement in the near-to-mid term… in the aggregate. Makes sense that we would see some gains in higher education funding as the national economy begins to climb out of the abyss and Florida expects its first budget surplus in 6 years. That said, I remain deeply concerned about the current and future state of higher ed in my own state. Here’s why: application rates are at record levels (again), state politicians posture and pressure our universities to freeze or reduce tuition, and then they slash state appropriations (again).

What’s the result? Supply and demand happens. More students vying for fewer (and over-crowded) classes with fewer, cheaper (read: less qualified) professors to educate them. And then what happens? It takes longer to graduate (did you know that already only 34.8% of UCF freshman can expect to graduate in 4 years); our student’s costs mount (both real and opportunity costs of not entering the workforce); there’s more need for financial aid and fewer dollars in the coffers to provide it. Student debt mounts, drop-out rates grow, and high-quality job prospects diminish.

There is no doubt that economic conditions, college funding and the quality of higher education are significantly intertwined. I’ve said it many times before, your family’s college strategy can affect not just four years of your child’s life… but the next 40. There are plenty of creative funding options, and the earlier you learn about the various conditions and factors that will affect your student’s education and your ability to afford it, the more you will have at your disposal. And if you can put together a sensible college funding plan, suddenly your retirement picture can start to look much better.

Like most large purchases, college is greatly affected by economic conditions. I’m holding an Emergency College Funding workshop this evening, January 24th, at the Sagemont School in Weston and then twice next month in Miami. In these programs, I’ll cover:

  • How a ‘pricey’ private college can cost less than a FL state school, even considering Bright Futures and FL Prepaid… especially considering the current economic climate
  • The biggest mistake parents make with FL Prepaid and other 529 plans
  • Why it’s taking, on average, 5+ years to graduate from college today (see above) and how to buck this trend
  • How to compile a list of schools that maximize chances at both admissions and financial aid
  • The crucial questions parents should ask of every school on a student’s college list
  • More!

This events are completely gratis. I do promise, however, that you will leave with valuable knowledge that can save the typical middle class family thousands of dollars off the cost of college. With all that’s going on at a macro scale, it’s time to put a personal plan together on how you will pay for college for your children, without sacrificing your retirement. The best way to start is to attend my workshop. Click here to register. I look forward to seeing you there.

Best,
Peter

P.S. Feel free to forward this to a friend, relative, neighbor or colleague who is a parent of a college-bound, high school student. They’ll thank you for it.

P.P.S. If you are interested in the details, check out the Grapevine report referenced above.

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