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When it comes to price hikes, higher education makes the oil industry look like a piker. While oil and gasoline prices have risen and fallen with supply and demand over the past three decades, average tuition prices have been on a constant upward path ("No way down," Aug. 27, 2005).
The result has been increasing indebtedness among college students and recent graduates, but innovative students and families can minimize the damage. An increasing number of undergraduates are finding creative ways to spend less money during their college years. Among the ways financial counselors suggest to save money on campus:
Consider an accelerated degree.
Lucy Lazarony of BankRate.com suggests this option for highly talented and focused students. For students who know they want to become doctors, George Washington University offers a seven-year combined bachelor's/medical degree. The University of Missouri-Kansas City has a similar six-year program.
Many schools also offer combined (usually five-year) bachelor's and master's programs that cut down on the amount of time and money needed to get the degrees. "An accelerated degree program is a great option for a student with a clear career goal," argues Lazarony. "If you're ready to work hard, why not put your college education on the fast track?"
Buy books online.
The monopoly that campus bookstores once had on selling books for the classroom has not survived the internet age. The National Association of College Stores reports that about 23 percent of students bought books online in 2005, with two-thirds of those purchases made somewhere other than campus bookstore websites.
Amazon.com and eBay.com are two popular options, but many other helpful websites also exist. Students can use BestBookBuys.com to compare prices from dozens of websites offering books. The potential savings can run into the hundreds of dollars.
Don't buy a computer.
When a student pays his tuition bill or the bill for room and board, he's likely helping to subsidize a computer lab on campus or in his dorm. If so, why not use it? Kenyon College, for instance, has more than 200 computers available to students and provides each student with a computer account that offers access to the internet, e-mail, and online library resources.
Many students nowadays consider having their own computer a necessity. (A survey by Circuit City found that 72 percent said they "cannot live without" a computer.) Laptops are now popular for taking notes during class. "Just in the time I've been here, laptops have taken over," University of Tulsa senior Sam Steffy told the Tulsa World. "In some of my classes about a third of the students are using them." But for those who need to save money, a pen and paper work just as well.
Don't take a car.
An automobile brings with it a lot of built-in, regular expenses that can strain a student's budget, including insurance, parking costs, and filling up the gas tank at today's prices. On most university campuses, everything a student needs is within walking or biking distance-often even a local church.
Some universities, including Stanford and Ohio State, even prohibit freshmen from bringing cars on campus and offer other transportation options, such as buses. The exercise involved in walking and biking might also help keep off the extra pounds that suddenly materialize on many freshmen.
Take advantage of campus social events.
Many campuses are rich in free or low-cost cultural attractions, from museums and plays to sporting events and intramural competitions. Most universities also have a smorgasbord of student organizations and clubs that offer regular social activities to students.
Some of these ideas will seem radical to today's students, and having a computer or car on campus certainly can be helpful for students who can afford them. But a generation or two ago, graduating from college with thousands of dollars in credit card debt would have seemed radical. Today, with a lot of expenses that are simply assumed to be necessary, it's commonplace.
HOUSING: The U.S. housing market is continuing its almost year-long deceleration, according to an Aug. 16 report from the Commerce Department. The agency said that construction of new homes was down last month, falling to about 1.8 million homes, marking the fifth decline in the last six months. The National Association of Home Builders, meanwhile, reported last week that its gauge of builder sentiment was at its lowest point in 15 years.
INFLATION: Investors were pleased with an Aug. 16 report that consumer prices grew less than expected in July. The report from the Labor Department said the core consumer price index-which doesn't include energy or food prices-was up 0.2 percent, while the overall index was up 0.4 percent.
BUSINESS: Wal-Mart announced last week its first quarterly profit decline in 10 years. Net income for the retail giant was $2.08 billion for the second quarter, down from $2.81 billion in the first. The company blamed high gasoline prices and the closing of its German stores for the disappointing result. "In the United States, customers tell us they are most concerned about gas prices," Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott said. "This has been consistent every month this quarter."