Start by debunking the stereotype of having to pay full ride for your child. There are lots of options for getting your kid educated without having to bust the bank. You and junior just have to be prepared to think out of the box.
First, strongly consider the community college option. Unless your kid got a full ride to their first pick university, It makes too strong financial sense not to examine this opportunity closely.
Not only does it cost a fraction of what a four-year institution will cost you, it also allows your 18-year-old precious time; time to take a wide-variety of classes, time to decide what they really want to major in, even time to work part time. It enables them to ease themselves into adulthood without the pressure a high-falutin' four-year school might put on them. Four-years typically hold open a certain percentage of slots for community college transfer students, making it easier, in many cases, to get into those highly-selective schools they wouldn't have made the cut at directly after high school.
A final note, one that may be lost on your kid, (who may have his mind set on a fancy school he won't be paying for anyway): The education you get at a two-year can in many ways be better than that at a four-year. Lecturers and professors at community colleges are there to teach. They are largely free from the "Publish or Perish" shackles of their four-year brethren. At Berkeley, for example, many classes are taught by graduate student assistants (faculty slave labor) while the faculty is engaged in its own research. At a two-year, the teacher is there to teach - and with the same level of expertise, you're getting an excellent education at less than half the price.
Secondly, look for schools that offer grants instead of loans. You'd be surprise how many schools do. There are many universities out there, responding to the steady drumbeat of criticism over the crushing student-loan debt of new graduates, that are finding better ways of funding their students' course of study.
Many Ivy Leagues have slashed their tuition to be more affordable to "middle-class" students. If your kid does manage to get in, you won't be facing such a daunting bill. In recent years students from families that make less than $60K a year don't have to pay tuition at Harvard, and the university recently announced dramatic tuition cuts that make its hallowed halls that much more accessible. Other elite universities are following its lead. Dartmouth, for example, announced last week that it would waive tuition fees for students from families earning up to $75K a year.
Consider top-rated schools without the "brand" name. University of Chicago, Middlebury, Tulane -- these schools aren't in the vaunted Ivy Leagues, but they're top-tier school all the same.
And for the kid who just won't leave his gaming post, here is a long list of universities and colleges that offer free online courses. These aren't coursework for full degrees, of course, but why not learn sign language from Michigan State University, or brush up on your physics courtesy of Yale?
Finally, there's the old-fashioned notion of going where you can afford -- and if that means the local state university, living at home and working part-time instead of getting a full ride to Brown, well, that's the new reality, kid. Living within your means is the new paradigm. What better time to teach this lesson than when they go off to college?
This post is part of a series offering consumers advice on what to do during a recession.