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Many worry about university costs

By Matt Pommer

Worried about college costs facing your children or grandchildren?

A year at the University of Wisconsin — including room and board — costs an average $14,873, according to estimates prepared for the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents.

Yet only 29 percent of students complete their undergraduate degree in four years. The UW has a policy under which students pay the same tuition when they enroll for between 12 to 18 credits per semester.

The average undergraduate degree requires 120 credits — or 15 credits per semester. But the graduation time averages are more than just students taking fewer credits.

Students regularly report they aren’t able to get into the required courses for their academic major. It’s likely that the graduation time also reflects that students may shift their academic major midway through their college life.

Telling students they should quickly get their degrees, get jobs and start earning money may be nifty, but the current recession has limited the number of jobs for new college graduates.

The extra years are bad news for the university as well as the students.

Young people who spend additional semesters in school often prevent others from getting the courses they need to graduate. The whole system ends up clogged as the process spreads.

In February the Regents are expected to focus on differential tuition. One question is whether to increase tuition for certain programs, making more high demand courses available and thus easing the academic logjam.

But university officials note that family decisions probably are the key to any affordability concerns. They have offered some ideas on how to reduce overall costs.

One common-sense suggestion is living at home while attending a two-year branch of the university within commuting distance.

Another suggestion is filling out financial aid applications. You might be surprised about what aid might be available to you, they say.

Another suggestion — aimed at those entering high school — is to plan to take advanced placement offered by many Wisconsin high schools. Taking foreign language throughout the high school years can open the door to getting college credits when a young person enrolls as a freshman.

Some suggest parents and grandparents should try to convince their teenagers what they want to be in the adult world. Good luck with that effort.

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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