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FAMILY   -   EDUCATION & ENRICHMENT
Is College in your Family's Future?
July, 2006 - Issue #21
It seems like just yesterday you were teaching your child how to tie his shoes. Now that he is about to enter high school, have you given any thought to his college education? According to the experts, you should have started thinking about it and putting aside some money when you were teaching him to tie those shoes.

The cost today of a single year at a state college will average about $20,000. And many students do not graduate in four years. Tuition, room and board, books, insurance and medical care are all part of the financial burden that will shock the unsuspecting parent unless they've done some research.

The college application process is tough. There are required classes one must take in high school, extra-curricular activities to give an edge on that application and of course, the three-part SAT exam.

"A college education is the best gift a parent can give their child," said Ilene Blok, a counselor at Saugus High School. "I can't think of a better investment."

Blok has assisted many students with college admissions and while she admits the college process is a bit more competitive these days, there are many fine colleges across the state who will accept students with less than a 4.0 grade point average.

But there seems to be a trend with high school students opting to attend a community college and then transfer to a university. One-half of the graduating seniors in the William S. Hart Union High School District have indicated they plan on attending a two-year college. Reasons given are costs, living at home, easier to get the classes they need and making up for classes they didn't take in high school.

Whether or not they are going directly to a university or a community college, the biggest mistake a student can make is to cut back on their academic classes, especially math, while they are still in high school, Blok said.

"College of the Canyons, for example, is a two-year school for students who are ready to do college-level work," said Blok, who also counsels part-time at COC. "A lot of incoming freshmen are not ready for college classes according to their placement exam results."

A recent article in the Canyon Call, a COC newspaper, reported 91 percent of incoming freshmen were required to take non-transferable classes in math and 86 percent had to enroll in non-transferable English classes. That means there will be several semesters added to their community college experience just to reach the English and mathematic courses required to transfer or receive an Associates Degree. When you factor in job responsibilities and part-time student status, transferable credits at a community college can take years to earn.

"College of the Canyons, for example, is a two-year school for students who are ready to do college-level work. A lot of incoming freshmen are not ready for college classes according to their placement exam results," Ilene Blok, Saugus High School counselor and part-time counselor at COC
Statistics show 65 percent of incoming, full-time freshmen graduate with an Associates Degree or transfer to a four-year school within three to six years, said Dr. Barry Gribbons, himself a COC grad. "Statistically its complex to give a percentage because there are a million [variables]. Students add two years [in community college] if their language skills or math skills are much below college level. Community college is all about helping the students, however, and it doesn't matter what the skill level is when the students comes to us. We do what we can to get them through."

Says Blok, "Of course, COC also provides excellent opportunities for high school honors students who want to save $20,000 to $60,000 as well as students who need to further develop their English and math skills."

But if the student is prepared and has been accepted to a four-year school, college becomes a lifestyle and they have the opportunity to become part of an academic community. Living in a dorm or sharing an apartment with fellow students and spending most of the time on campus sets a student up for success because college life is more than books and exams.

Ask anyone about their college experience and they'll tell you stories about dorm life, football games and the first date with their future spouse; joining a fraternity or sorority, meeting friends at the local hang-out and finding a bigger world outside of the one they grew up in. If the college of choice turned down your child you may want to consider having him or her enroll in the community college located next to the university. Usually counselors at those community colleges will fast track a student into the university within a year or two. You will end up paying $26 a unit tuition (in California) but additional costs will be in room, board and transportation. Many college towns have residential halls, with supervision and roommates, for the community college kids. All of this is still much less expensive that the $15,000 to $20,000 a year for university tuition alone.

You will be able to find much of this information on the internet, especially a webpage from the Saugus High counselors (www.sauguscenturions.com/guidance) that will answer many questions about college. Families should also attend the Hart District's annual College Days which will are held in the fall. There you will find representatives from several state colleges, universities and private schools. Financial experts are on hand to explain scholarships, student loans and college savings plans.

"Parents should attend College Days and start thinking about all of this by the time their child is in ninth grade," Coleen Flaherty, head counselor at Hart High School
"Parents should attend College Days and start thinking about all of this by the time their child is in ninth grade," said Coleen Flaherty, head counselor at Hart High School. "It's fun for the students to go table-to-table talking to the different representatives and gathering information."

The schools are crowded so you need to be an advocate for your child. Make sure your child's counselor knows he or she is college-bound and ask for a list of college prep classes. Students also need to make several visits throughout their high school years to their counselors and keep a close watch on their GPA, course schedule and college application deadlines.

Gribbons said the best way to be successful in college is to start in high school. "Be prepared and take the math and English classes needed," he said. "Concurrent enrollment at College of the Canyons while in high school is an excellent opportunity to see what it's like to be a college student, meet the college professors and have an exposure to the college lifestyle. Once at college, see a counselor, develop an academic plan and work through it even if it changes. Make school a priority."

Watching your child graduate from high school is a wonderful feeling, but it is the minimum expected of you as a parent today. A college education may seem expensive and out of reach, but there is help available. Granted, not every child is college material, but raise the bar and strive towards that goal. Make it a priority and take advantage of the people who can help you because if you think tying that shoe was an accomplishment, wait until to watch your child walk across the stage to receive their college diploma.

It's priceless.
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