A bachelor's degree may deliver high earnings, but it also requires a pricey outlay for tuition, room and board if you attend a four-year residential college.
You could get your prerequisites taken care of for less at the local community college. Tuition and fees are two-thirds lower, on average, at a community college than at a four-year institution, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. Spending two years at a community college could save you thousands in tuition and fees over a four-year public education; you'll save thousands more on room and board by living at home. Community colleges also offer night and weekend classes, so they are more accommodating to students who have jobs and families.
Another possibility is to enroll in a three-year BA program. Although such programs have existed for decades (Bates College, a private institution in Maine, has offered one since the 1960s), increases in both public- and private-school costs have contributed to a recent surge in their popularity. Nearly 20 private schools have added three-year degrees since the economic downturn in 2008, according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
With tuition and fees increasing about 3 percent to 5 percent a year for the past few years, enrolling in a three-year degree program becomes doubly beneficial: Graduating in three years lets you avoid a fourth year of college costs, and you can start earning a year sooner. The Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, which looked into these degrees for the University of Wisconsin, estimates that resident students could save about $25,000 on the total cost of college by finishing a year early.
Wisconsin isn't the only state exploring accelerated degree programs. Ohio's 2012-'13 budget requires public institutions to produce plans for three-year bachelor's degrees, with a goal of adding these accelerated degree options to 60 percent of programs by 2014.
Private-school programs include that of American University, where 2011-'12 tuition and fees were $38,982 per year. The Washington, D.C., university launched its three-year "Global Scholars" program in 2011. Students complete 45 college credits each year including study abroad, and graduate one year early with a BA in international studies.
(Susannah Snider is a staff writer at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. And for more on this and similar money topics, visit http://www.Kiplinger.com.)