The cost of a college education has increased considerably over the past decades.

But very few students pay the full price. Thanks to financial aid and merit scholarships, about 90% of undergraduates in the United States receive some kind of discount.

Ron Lieber: “In many schools where the discounts are widespread, everyone receives a merit assistance award, and that may depend less on your ability and more on what the school perceives that the award would be necessary for you. make say yes. “

Ron Lieber – a New York Times columnist – recently published a roadmap to help families navigate the complicated process of paying for college.

Lieber says schools use a variety of data to determine how much merit aid to offer potential students, including their zip code, how much time they spend on the school’s website, and even how quickly they open them. emails.

Offers of merit assistance appear to be leading to an increase in registrations. For example, the University of Alabama now spends nearly $ 138 million on merit assistance, up from about $ 7 million more than a decade ago. And since then, its workforce has tripled.

But Lieber says it’s important to recognize merit aid for what it is.

Lieber: “If everyone gets a trophy, then merit aid is used as a marketing program to make teens feel good about themselves and parents feel like they have a gold star because they can run around town saying, “My kid got a college scholarship. Which is technically true. But school never really tells you that everyone has a pony here. “

But even with all of these tuition discounts, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York says student loans are the biggest problem. second largest portion of all US household debt after mortgage debt.

According to the latest federal data, about 43 million Americans owe a total of $ 1.56 trillion in federal student loans. That’s about $ 740 billion more than the total US credit card debt.

President Joe Biden said he was open to forgive up to $ 10,000 in student loans per borrower. If this debt relief becomes law, more than 15 million borrowers could have their student loan debt wiped out completely.

But students should not automatically settle for the help that is initially offered to them. Lieber says there is always room to negotiate a bigger discount.

Lieber: “It will help to have a better net price from another school that is in direct competition with the one you were trying to get a better deal for. … The only way to know how much this institution or entity wants you is by asking yourself and putting yourself forward. “


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