The choice of where to go to college is not a decision made alone. Often, the parents’ opinions, advice and financial support are key parts of a student’s decision process.
In the case of my daughter, who started college last fall, the decision of where to enroll was definitely a family affair. We talked with her to determine what kinds of institutions would be a good fit and discussed very openly what we could realistically afford. Let’s just say the conversations were not always easy, especially when we talked about money, but as a family we were able to arrive at what was a perfect fit for us all.
Because of this experience, I realized that the University of Central Arkansas had a unique opportunity to help parents who are going through the same things I did last year. Why not provide families with the information and guidance to make the best decision for their student and their family needs? The answer to that question led me to work with various offices on campus to develop the Know Before You Go program, a series of workshops to help parents and their students take more control of the process. In collaboration with the Division of Outreach and Community Engagement and offices of Admissions, Financial Aid and Student Accounts, we focused first on the costs of college because that is often the most stressful part of deciding where to attend.
The initial workshop of the Know Before You Go series, “Understanding the Costs of College,” proved to be popular. More than 100 parents and their students attended in the fall of 2017. There is obviously a need to educate the community about how to make decisions based on financial considerations. Some of the topics we shared in the workshop included using an institution’s tuition and fees calculator first to get a good idea of what the cost per semester will be. This information will give families a starting point. Then parents and their students should use the institution’s net price calculator to get a sense of how their family contributions and financial aid may reduce the estimated costs. This is a key step because what seems like a too-costly school may actually be less expensive after the amount of available financial aid is considered. The net price estimate can lead to a family conversation about a variety of ways to pay for college, including having your student contribute through a part-time or summer job. If there are multiple schools to consider, families can compare costs before making a final decision.
Because of the positive feedback we received from parents, we now have confirmation that what we aimed to provide is exactly the kind of support they need. We are also planning more workshops in the future, including one on helping students prepare for the academic expectations of college. The more parents and students know about how to afford college and make the best decisions for their family, the more likely they will stay and graduate with a degree. Who doesn’t want that?
Amy Baldwin, Ed.d.
Amy Baldwin, Ed.D., is the director of University College and has co-authored college student success textbooks, as well as “A High School Parent’s Guide to College Success: 12 Essentials.”