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Chris Towles: Strategies for California college planning

Posted: February 25, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 25, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Planning to go to college in California? Here’s some information you may want to know.

The number of students clamoring to enter the University of California in fall 2011 is at an all-time high. The California State University has seen similar increases in the number of applications.

A significant note is that out-of-state and international student applications have increased by 10.7 percent and 22.5 percent, respectively.

This is significant because it is happening at the same time as funding, staff and course sections are being reduced.

The predictable result is this: The bar for admission is being raised, and the cost to attend continues to climb.

 If you have college-bound students, this should have your attention: When out-of-state students are being recruited for the tuition they bring (the CSU and UC systems have hired recruiters to bring in out-of-state and out-of-country students), California students have fewer opportunities at the in-demand schools.

While the cost of attending has increased, the length of time it takes to graduate has also increased, a double hit financially since students are not only spending more, but doing it for longer periods of time.

Currently, just 37 percent of full-time students graduate in four years. Six-year graduation rates have become the standard to measure a college’s performance.

 A 2007 survey of incoming freshmen conducted by the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute indicated a real disconnect between student perception and the reality of paying for college. In that survey, only 9.5 percent of surveyed freshmen were not sure if they would have sufficient funding for college, while 90 percent showed little or no concern.

A benefit of the deep recession is that more students are aware of the cost of college, the most recent survey indicating that students are more concerned than they have been since 1971 about their, or their parents’, ability to pay for school.

While college is no guarantee of success, nor the only path to success, the statistics are compelling. The better educated one is, the greater one’s lifetime earnings will be.

Additionally, the more education one has, the less likely he or she is to be unemployed, at least during the recent recession.

Today, students and parents are gaining a new appreciation for the value of a college education, as well as the realities of paying for it.

With the average annual cost of the CSU system at $20,787 and the UC system at $29,400, understanding the financial-aid system is critical. Students and parents should look to build a partnership between the school, the government, the student and parents, and know how to leverage each of those pieces.

Also, it’s important to realize that a less expensive school that takes longer to graduate from may not be the bargain it appears to be.

The college application process starts when high school does. To be positioned to choose the right colleges, the student must take the right classes, earn high grades, take the ACT and SAT tests and engage in the outside activities that make him or her more desirable to desirable schools.

These activities happen throughout the student’s high school career, although it is never too late to start planning.

The goal of good college planning is, ultimately, admission to the school of one’s choice. When it’s time to apply, the student with all college options available has the greatest advantage.

Doors are not opened just because the student took the right classes or has the grades and test scores.

Doors are opened because the student has researched and identified desirable colleges and because he or she developed a strategy to pay for that education.

The final step will be to evaluate acceptance letters in the spring.

Chris Towles of College Bound Strategies can be reached at (888) 791-9616 or via e-mail to His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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