Today I’m excited to have a good friend of mine, Cy Vanover, sharing his knowledge on getting a college degree without debt. Cy is a genius at this stuff and just came out with his first book on the subject so even though this post is a bit long, READ IT and SHARE IT with anyone who may be planning for college anytime soon.
Since 1978, the average price of college tuition has increased 1,100 percent. No folks, that’s not a typo … a 1,100 percent increase, even when adjusting for inflation. But don’t take my word for it; that statistic comes directly from William (Bill) Bennett, former Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan.
There was a time (not that long ago) when students could pay their way through school by working part-time construction jobs and graduating completely debt-free. Yes, they had to live very frugal lives in order to do it, but do it they did. What happened to those days?
Due to the outrageously high costs of earning college degrees that we see today, many are now questioning whether going to college is even worth it, like Bill Bennett, who coauthored the new book “Is College Worth It?” In Bennett’s book he states that about half of all new college graduates end up either unemployed or underemployed with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. You know when a former Secretary of Education questions the value of a college degree that things are bad.
I still believe it’s a good idea to acquire an education or earn a college degree (or both, if you prefer). The problem with earning a college degree today is the return on investment (ROI), or specifically, the lack of a return. Far too many people are graduating from college and not being able to find meaningful employment. Many have to go with whatever work they can find and some even have to move back in with their parents just to make ends meet. The cost of earning a college degree has become way too expensive and many people are ending up in bad financial shape because of it.
STEM fields are often considered by some individuals as a way to potentially improve the ROI of their educational investments due to the demand for STEM professionals and the practical skills acquired through STEM education. Professionals like Google’s Kamau Bobb emphasize the importance of individuals thoughtfully considering their career goals and conducting cost-benefit analyses when making educational and career decisions.
What happened? The explanation is simple: Things were going just fine in the world of higher education until the introduction of government grants and student loans. Before these things existed, if a student couldn’t afford to go to college, he or she simply didn’t. It was that lack of money (and demand) that kept prices in check. And then almost overnight nearly everyone could “afford” to go. Grants were given to lower income folks and student loans were made available to everyone else. And not only that, but everyone was strongly encouraged to attend college, too. It was this sudden injection of “easy money” and high demand for the product (a college education) that caused prices to rapidly rise.
The reason colleges and universities raised their prices isn’t hard to understand. Since everyone could suddenly “afford” to go to college, the schools believed they could raise tuition prices to bring in more revenue. Over the years, every single time the grant amount has been increased, schools have responded by raising their tuition prices. And it has been this way for years.
Nearly 20 years ago, when I was nearing high school graduation and considering my options for college, I knew that I didn’t want to take out any student loans to make it happen. I’ve always been very leery of debt. It’s probably the whole idea of being a servant to the lender that turns me off. I only want to be a servant to the Lord, not to a lending institution. So I started to do a little research to see what my options were. No stone was left unturned. What I found was truly surprising. I found many ways to earn legitimate college credit for much less than what most people believe to be possible. The information was out there; it was just scattered. And it was information that most colleges and universities don’t advertise. Why? Simple…because they are raking in the cash from your tuition money and they don’t want the gravy train to stop.
What incentive do colleges and universities have to advertise affordable alternatives to their expensive tuition? None that I can think of. Have you visited a college lately? I have. You can throw a dart at almost any college on the map and nearly all of them are expanding, renovating, beautifying, or doing something with all of the money they have.
After earning my bachelor’s degree I tucked the information I had gathered away in my cranial filing cabinet. Then I began to read news reports about so many people’s lives being destroyed because their student loan payments were much higher than they could afford. I started hearing these stories almost on a daily basis…on the news, on the internet, and in magazines. I felt really bad for these people because I knew that earning a college degree doesn’t have to be an expensive undertaking at all. I knew you could even earn a free college degree if you knew how the system worked. Yes folks … free (without a scholarship). That’s when I decided I had to share the information I had gathered all those years ago. The result is Earn A Debt-Free College Degree! And for the record, this is not another one of THOSE books that only talks about scholarships. I focus on strategies anyone can use to dramatically lower the cost of higher education. You don’t have to be the valedictorian to make them work. You don’t have to spend hours applying for scholarships. I discuss many different strategies in the book and I want to share one of those simple strategies with you today – the CLEP exam.
CLEP stands for College Level Examination Program. CLEP exams are a series of multiple-choice exams you can take and if you pass any of them, you are awarded college credit in the subjects you are challenging. CLEP exams have been around for years but oddly enough, few people know about them. CLEP exams were developed and continue to be administered by The College Board, the same organization that’s behind the SAT.
CLEP exams were designed to measure college-level knowledge of different subjects. Taking a CLEP exam is essentially the equivalent of taking the final exam of a particular course. One of the truly great things about these exams is the method you use to learn the material is irrelevant. The exam doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter if you acquired the knowledge by reading library books, by watching documentaries, through on-the-job training or work assignments, or anything else. The only thing that is important is to be able to demonstrate your knowledge of the subjects you are interested in challenging on the exams.
CLEP exams are offered in 33 different subjects, typically the subjects that make up the first two years of a college degree. Most CLEP exams are worth three credit hours each while a few are worth six. And if you score high enough on any of the foreign language exams, you can earn up to 12 credit hours with one single exam! All CLEP exams are multiple-choice with the exception of the English composition exam. All CLEP exams are scored from a range of 20 to 80 with a 50 being the most common passing score.
CLEP exams have quite a bit going for them but the most important thing I want to point out is how little they cost. All CLEP exams are currently $77 each, regardless of how many credits they are worth. That means you could earn 30 credit hours (by taking exams worth three credit hours each) with this method for only $770. Think about it…that’s one-fourth of a bachelor’s degree for less than the price of one single college course at most schools. And it could be even less if you take (and pass) exams that are worth more than three credit hours.
Here’s another thing that CLEP exams have going for them: If you fail a CLEP exam, no record of the attempt is made on your transcript. That’s much better than earning a bad grade (or failing) a particular course, isn’t it? All CLEP exams that you pass are recorded on your official transcript as either a “PASS” or “CR” (credit) with no letter grade. That means it doesn’t matter if you barely pass a CLEP exam. It doesn’t matter. You still get college credit for the course and you get to move on to something else. If you do happen to fail a CLEP exam and you want to try it again, simply wait the mandatory six months and take it again.
CLEP exams are administered by nearly 1,700 schools all across the United States and they are accepted for college credit by nearly 3,000 colleges and universities. In fact, it’s almost hard to find a school that doesn’t accept them. Most schools will accept at least 30 credit hours of CLEP exam credit but some schools, such as Troy University, in Troy, Alabama, will accept up to 60 credit hours of CLEP credit. I mention a few other schools that will accept up to 60 credit hours of CLEP credit in my book (hint, hint).
CLEP exams are perfect for high school students who want to earn college credit for the courses they are taking in high school. After finishing a couple of years of a foreign language, for example, why not take the corresponding CLEP exam and earn college credit? After wrapping up an algebra course, why not take the college algebra CLEP exam and earn college credit in that subject? Think about all the time and money (and headache) you’ll save when you enter college. Think about how far ahead of your peers you’ll be.
There are many different resources available you can use to prepare for CLEP exams. You can easily find these study guides by doing a search for “CLEP” in Amazon.
Colleges and universities that accept CLEP exams for college credit are very, very common. I randomly looked up the first ten schools that came to my mind to see if they accept CLEP. Here are the ones I looked up. And yes, every single one of them accepts CLEP for college credit:
- Virginia Tech
- East Tennessee State University
- University of Tennessee
- Radford University
- Liberty University
- University of Kentucky
- Eastern Kentucky University
- Georgia Tech
- Tennessee Tech
- University of Florida
I think you get the point.
Most schools keep a list of CLEP exams they will accept tucked away somewhere on their web sites or in their college catalogs. But it’s not something they openly advertise. We don’t want to interrupt the tuition gravy train now, do we? Well, yes, actually we do.