Keeping College Affordable

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By Sara Mackey

To help highlight the affordability of technical college, many of Wisconsin’s technical colleges are waiving the application fee during the month of October. Some people argue that a four-year education is a necessity at any cost. Higher education is the second biggest source of consumer debt after mortgages, topping 1.6 trillion dollars in student loan debt. Still, many parents and students also pay for the traditional college experience, bragging rights, prestige and other intangible factors. But shouldn’t bragging rights should also be allotted for students who graduate with little or no debt?

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A technical college education represents affordability and tremendous value, more now than ever. Given the similar objective between higher education institutions, tuition costs are dramatically different. Public two-year colleges like Wisconsin’s 16 technical colleges offer the least expensive tuition at a cost of $4,167/year in 2020-21. Many degrees offered by the technical colleges can be completed within one or two years of full-time enrollment, in which case the tuition would at most double for graduates, based on two full years of credits. But, if it’s a shorter degree or diploma, the cost could be half of the annual tuition mentioned, if it is less than a semester in length based on the credits the degree or diploma requires.

Tuition and fees at other higher education institutions ranges from $5,210/year to more than $38,000/year. Over four years, that could add up to more than $150,000, not to mention living expenses. When you consider that completing the first two years of college at a technical education does not prevent students from transferring on to complete a bachelor’s degree or higher, it is especially valuable to start out in this way.

In addition to outright cost-per-credit educational value, Wisconsin's technical colleges also offer ways to help make getting a degree more affordable, awarding a number of scholarships, grants and tuition remission along with services for veterans. With dual credit programs allowing high school students to enroll in college-level courses at no cost to the student, motivated students can begin amassing college credits (maybe even a degree!) before their high school graduation. Wisconsin’s technical colleges demonstrate value through a vast array of student services and impressive graduate outcomes. Outcomes like 93% employment within six months of graduating, lower tuition, lower debt assumption and median salaries starting in the upper $40 thousands, two years of focused, hands-on, effective education is by most standards, a very good return on investment.

Students with employer-sponsors can begin an apprenticeship and get paid for their time spent learning in class and on-the-job. Factors like expert instructors, personal attention and services help ensure every students’ success. Job placement services, service-learning experience and internships are just a few of the options helping assure students in their decision. 

During this difficult economic time, it’s especially tough for many students to consider attending any college, even if it’s the best thing they can do to improve their future career prospects. The Promise programs offered by most of the technical colleges, provide free tuition for those who qualify. These lower-income students tend to be more at risk of dropping out, because of the number of pressures they face. They may work multiple jobs, struggle to find childcare, they may not have access to high-speed internet or may face any number of other barriers. The technical colleges are committed to student success and have set up a number of services to help, including at many college food pantries, laptop/technology check outs, childcare options, and more.

The technical college experience is likely to be different this year, as at all colleges and universities. But careful planning and precautions are allowing the technical colleges to welcome students back safely. Students in programs best served by hands-on classes are attending classes on campus with masks and other precautions. Many other classes are suited to online learning and are offered that way, at least for now. The colleges are absolutely committed to offering an experience that rivals “normal” years.

Demonstrating their commitment to affordability and value this October, most of Wisconsin’s 16 technical colleges are waiving the application fee for potential students. Interested students should contact their local technical college’s enrollment specialists to inquire about the fee-free application this month. Students lose nothing by using this waiver, visiting the campus, touring and talking to staff, instructors and students about their experience at a technical college. Those who apply and ultimately enroll can add additional cost savings to the ledger.