Brian O'Connell @ Yahoo FinanceMonday, September 13, 2010
A new book offers advice for college students looking to save their parents' retirement and financial well-being.
Meet Zac Bissonnette, a graduate of the University of Massachusetts and the author of the book Debt-Free U: How I Paid For an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching Off My Parents. Bissonnette's tale is an eye-opening one – and a must-read for students looking to save every penny they can on tuition.
The cost of higher education is rising – even as the economy remains a tailspin. The average four-year cost for a top-flight school like Harvard or Stanford is almost $200,000. And even a solid state school like UCLA or the University of Michigan will set students back almost $100,000.
So how did Bissonnette come out ahead?
Let's take a look at Bissonnette's results and what he was (or wasn't) working with. He graduated with no student loan debt, no financial support from parents and no scholarships. Or, as the author describes it in explaining his book:"
[This book] is for families who can find fifteen dollars per week in cost cuts…and students who are willing to work hard — thirty hours per week, on average, including vacations — college is affordable: without any savings, student loans, Parent PLUS loans, retirement looting, organ sales, or heroin dealing."
Bissonnette touts some simple concepts, but concepts that might have gone out of style in recent decades. He advocates picking a cheaper state school than an expensive private one; working up to 30 hours a week while you're at school to help pay the freight; and a "no excuses" mentality that stresses hard work, studying and keeping ahead of your academic workload.
The debt questions chiefly rest on two themes: Don't take out a student loan and choose a state school over a private one. The author notes that public college students graduate with significantly less debt than their private school counterparts (UMass is ranked fifth in the nation among big schools that graduate students with the lowest debt, according to U.S. News & World Report.)
He also took a financial risk that most college students don't normally take — paying for his housing by investing in local real estate.
As for class work, Bissonnette advises choosing a school not for its size or prestige factor, but by the specific programs that cater to your career interests. That could mean bypassing a chic private school and choosing a less-expensive state school that offers more programs (but always the one you want, Bissonnette says).
Another good financial move from the author: Since employers favor the college degree more than where you go to school for four years, spend your first two years in college at a community college, and accumulate enough credits to move on to a more career-enhancing college or university. If you live at home during those first years and pay the lower tuition rate, Bissonnette says you can cut your total college costs by tens of thousands of dollars.
There's no doubt top-flight schools won't like what Bissonnette is selling. But cash-strapped families will likely see it differently. If you want the whole enchilada, order Bissonnette's book.
Short of that, listen to what he says about college and the long-term impact of student debt:
"College is an active experience, not an intellectual amusement park ride where you strap in and see what happens. Find one with a wide array of programs and, above all, a price tag that won't put parents' retirement on the back burner or make a student an indentured servant of Sallie Mae into middle age. Just as driving a Mercedes won't make you rich, attending an expensive school won't make you smart. But it very well could make you poor."