Shopping for a College – Buyer Beware!
by Jim Sweizer
Vice President, Military Relations – American Public University System
How many times have you gone into a store with a great coupon deal, only to find that the item you wanted to buy has many “exclusions” listed in the fine print? Keeping this scenario in mind, here are some of the questionable enticements you should be aware of when shopping for the college that’s right for you.
What they tell you: “Complete your degree in ### months!”
What they’re not saying: “Applies to full-time students only.”
Fact: A servicemember using tuition assistance benefits for undergraduate courses enrolls in approximately 3 courses or 9 semester hours a year. In fact, an airman enrolled in a Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) associates program takes 9 years to complete all degree requirements.* Can a motivated military student working 10-16 hours a day really complete their degree requirements quicker by enrolling full time? Practically speaking, those who can are in the minority and less likely to have tuition assistance approved for a full-time course load.
What they tell you: “50%, 60%, or 70% Discount for Military Members!”
What they’re not saying: Failure to disclose existing tuition rates
Fact: Many schools serving the military community provide a discount to military members using tuition assistance benefits by capping their tuition at the $250 semester threshold imposed by the Department of Defense. It is prudent for a military student to investigate what the published tuition rates are for a school before making a decision based on what appears to be a discounted rate. Any potential tuition discount could still mean unplanned out-of-pocket expenses if the final costs exceed the DoD cap.
What they tell you: “Top-Ranked” or “Top 10” Military-Friendly School”
What they’re not stating: Source of the ranking
Fact: There are many “military-friendly school” lists permeating higher education advertising outlets these days. Some publishers cleverly cloak their lists as “guides,” while others actually rank-order participating academic institutions. Schools that subsequently promote these rankings in their advertising campaigns should provide a verifiable source. Is the ranking given by a reputable publisher. or does it emanate from a “play-to-pay” website that creates a list based solely on those schools purchasing an ad or sponsorship? Another thing to consider is that rankings are sometimes based on the submission of a survey, which some truly “military-friendly” schools choose not to complete due to various legitimate reasons.
A once-popular clothing-store chain in the Northeast used a terrific slogan to sell their products: “An educated consumer is our best customer.” I am a big fan of military students being educated consumers, and the only way this will happen is through research. If something looks too good to be true, it usually is. Knowing the facts will help you make an informed decision when selecting a school that meets your needs.
* CCAF Mission Brief, Oct 2013