College is expensive, but not impossible | SierraSun.com

College is expensive, but not impossible

Christine Stanley
Sierra Sun

The cost of tuition, books and living space continues to rise nationwide, but local academic counselors say if there’s a will to go to college, there’s still a way.

“Don’t let money be your deciding factor until you go through the whole process,” said Paul Christensen, an academic counselor at Tahoe Truckee High School. “Parents are crossing off the four-year schools in their mind because they think it’s too expensive … but most of the kids that really want to go to four-year schools figure out a way to do it.”

The cost of attending one of the 23 four-year colleges in the public California State University system ” including tuition, books and room and board ” is about $16,500 annually, according to an estimate on the CSU Web site. Facing an even steeper yearly price tag of $23,000 to attend one of the 10 University of California campuses, the state’s premier public universities, it’s no wonder some parents are hesitant to pack their kids off to university after high school.

Out-of-state surcharges can add additional thousands, especially when applied to graduate or medical programs in other areas. The daunting finances help explain the continuing popularity of California’s community college system.

“Community college in general is going to be far more affordable than a four-year school, but professionally you might be concerned about having a community college on your resume,” said Karen Honeywell, a career adviser at Sierra High.

“The great thing is that you don’t have to take the SATs or the ACTs, and there aren’t any requirements about what you take in high school. It works great because some of our students haven’t been on track … and it’s too late for them to qualify for a four-year school.”

The cost of a unit (most courses are three or five units) at Sierra College is $26, a substantially easier number to swallow than the $180 per unit charged at UC Santa Barbara.

“Money is only part of the issue. The other part is grades and course selection. Do you have the choice to go to a four-year school? Do you want to move away from home?” Christensen said. “Let’s face it, if you stay at home and go to a community college and then transfer as a junior, you are going to save yourself some money, but I always tell them to apply to wherever and then see if it will work out.”

Part of making college work out means applying for a variety of student loans, parent loans, grants and scholarships, Christensen advised.

“You try to get them to apply, but you can’t force them,” he said. “We get a pretty good percentage of kids applying for local scholarships ” every little bit helps, and that’s how you have to look at it.”