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Getting an Education (and Maybe a Deal!) on Buying Education
Written By: A. Coffin

November 2014

They say that knowledge is power. If that's the case, then money must really be powerful because buying an education these days is getting pretty tough on the wallet. Wouldn't it be great if you could get an education on the best ways to purchase your education? Even better would be treating the process of choosing a college or university like you would any other major expense.

Okay, you’ve decided to make the purchase. You’ve looked around, seen what there is to be seen, and you’ve settled on a few possible options. You’ve even compared the costs, or think you have.

If it were a car or a home you were considering, this would be the point at which the negotiations would begin. Since you’re thinking of buying an education, you’re planning on paying whatever they ask of you – full retail price, if you will. WHAT?

Back in the USA article: Getting an Education (and Maybe a Deal!) on Buying Education

That’s right; up until quite recently, we Americans have been content to pay whatever the colleges and universities ask us to pay. But as many people say, a college education is not what it once was, and because of that, it’s a buyer’s market in the education game.



According to Reuters, colleges are increasingly worried about getting enough enrollments, and students may be able to leverage that concern to their advantage.

Why Colleges are Ready to Negotiate

While it is still true that the most exclusive schools, such as Harvard, continually turn students away, for the majority of private colleges, that's not the case. In fact, other than a select few, private schools are struggling more than public universities, as private schools get almost all of their funding from tuition, and not from the government. Since the recession recovery, budgets are being restored, and public schools are rebuilding. But the private schools are having a tougher time.

According to Reuters, 65% of non-profit private schools failed to reach their enrollment goal—up from 56% the previous year.

The reason is that there appears to be what might be called ‘diminishing returns’ on education. According to Rohit Chopra, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) Student Loan Ombudsman, the cost of a college education has risen tenfold in the last 30 years, wildly outpacing inflation. Even in times of flat or negative economic growth, tuitions still inched upward.

What the Schools are Doing about Lower Enrollment

Certainly, most universities and colleges are stepping up their recruitment efforts, both in their home state and especially surrounding states. For public universities, this will provide them with more funding since out of state students generally pay more.

For the private organizations, it really is about getting bodies in the building. One thing that many private schools are doing to attract new students is to seek students who don’t need any financial aid, or don’t qualify for financial aid due to income. In this controversial move, the schools provide ‘merit’ financial aid. They oftentimes divert aid for true financial need, and provide more for students who are wealthier. For these families, it will work somewhat like a discount, and those students wouldn’t have gotten aid anyhow, so it can sway the decision to go to that school.

Back in the USA article: Getting an Education (and Maybe a Deal!) on Buying Education

Leveraging the Knowledge – Tips for Success

How can you use this to your advantage when you or your student consider colleges? The Northeastern Pennsylvania Family.com site has some tips for negotiating a good education.

  • Make sure you or your student gets the best grades and secondary education possible. While many things have changed in the world, this one hasn’t. Consider formal preparation for SAT/ACT tests as well.
  • Understand your financial position in the eyes of both the government and the schools. The government has a formula for what is considered ‘Expected Family Contribution (EFC).’ This is the minimum amount you’ll be expected to pay for your education. Schools, according to the NEPA Family.com site, use that number in determining what type of aid package they will offer, by subtracting the EFC from their own number, the ‘Cost of Attendance (COA).’ The difference between these two numbers is considered your ‘Financial Need.’  

Here is the kicker on this one – frequently schools offer people far less than what their eligible to receive. Know what your numbers are, and make sure you understand what each school’s true cost of attendance is – including room, board, tuition, books, etc.

There is a lot of information on these forms and school financing in general at the CFPB’s student site.



  • Narrow down your higher education choices to a pool of schools in which you or your student would be in the top 25% of applicants. This causes the school to be more open to negotiating, as they’ll really want you on their roster and again, is a good reminder of tip number 1 – better grades and test scores make a difference.
  • Research the schools that seem to have the best financial aid policies. Typically, well-endowed private schools have more to give than state schools, but pick both state and private schools that are of interest. Here is where your knowledge of EFC and COA comes into play. Make sure all the schools you pick will meet most or all of your financial need. If they don’t, and you’re still interested, write the school and ask why.
  • Narrow your search down to six or eight options, if you can, to make sure you have enough to choose and negotiate with. You can create a little subtle competition between the schools, based on similar choices with different aid packages. At this point, conversations with the school themselves, and comparisons, are very important.
  • Understand that while many schools won’t do heavy discounting any more, they can make the packages richer, with financial aid, merit aid (not financially based), work study programs, grants, part time jobs, etc. It’s the total package and what your final contribution works out to be that matters.
  • Finally, no school is a bargain, no matter how good the package, or big the name recognition is, if you or your student doesn’t want to be at that institution. Make sure you’re negotiating for something you truly want.

You need an education; they need excellent students who are ready to learn and get the most out of their educational experience. It’s time to make a deal.


Other Articles of Interest:

Elio Motors—A New Class of Car (Or Motorcycle)

The I.R.S.: Picking the Pockets of Americans

Wal-Mart Cutting More than Just Cost

Amazon Samples the Grocery Market


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