College is no longer affordable — but is even more necessary to increase our standard of living as individuals and as a country. Now the growing divide between college affordability and reality is being bridged by a creative new solution — American Honors. It's a realistic national program designed to reduce the overall cost of a college education, without adding to the burden of student loans.
American Honors provides a bridge from less expensive and more flexible two-year community colleges to the opportunity to earn a degree from a prestigious four-year public or private institution. With highly regarded colleges such as Amherst, Middlebury, Swarthmore, Auburn and Brandeis among the 27 participating schools, the program is picking up speed nationwide.
In its first year of operation, Honors Program community college graduates were accepted as transfer students beyond the American Honors network, including Stanford, Cornell, Georgetown, Vanderbilt, University of Michigan, Rutgers, Purdue, Reed and Occidental.
The program creates an "honors track" at participating community colleges across the country. The aim is to mentor students with advice and special honors courses, designed to make transferring credits easy and acceptable to participating universities, even across state lines. While there are no guarantees of acceptance at a participating university, the local program gives students a big lead in finishing their degrees in four years at a well-known school.
The huge advantage is cost: By attending a local community college for the first two years, then graduating from a university, it's estimated that the student and family can save from 40 to 80 percent of the first two years of college costs (depending on whether the student would otherwise attend a state university or an elite private school).
There is a cost to the program, between $2,000 and $2,500 per year in additional fees or course costs at the junior college level. But the proponents say that it still substantially reduces the overall cost of a college education, while creating a path to acceptance at major universities.
Even better, the program gives incentives for students to actually graduate from community college, lowering the number of dropouts at that level. Participating students will take 24 of 60 credits in honors courses together. And even though they are mostly commuters, they will have their own social network and support system, along with advisors to help them reach their goal of college admission. That should be easier since they will graduate from community college with an associate degree with honors.
American Honors: A Public/Private Solution
The concept is a clever private-public education partnership developed by Quad Learning, a private company headed by Chris Romer (former Colorado state senator who introduced the 2 plus 2 concept in his own state), Phil Bronner (former venture capitalist whose firm was the original investor in Blackboard and 2U) and David Finegold (former Dean at Rutgers School of Management, and Sr. VP there of community college relations). They have been working tirelessly to get participation from both community colleges and prestigious universities. And some well-known venture capitalists in the education field have signed on to fund their efforts.
Says Finegold: "We want to give kids an affordable path to the future — a college degree —without the huge burden of student debt. The program will support them along the way, creating rigorous community college courses that will give credits easily transferrable to colleges promising to give these students a special look if they otherwise qualify for admission."
I have long advocated local community colleges as a less expensive pathway to a college degree. Students can live at home to cut expenses or work full-time jobs and attend community college at night. But the argument has always been that much of their hard work is lost when credits don't transfer, and that major universities don't view them as a "core group" for admission as transfer students.
Now, thanks to American Honors and the participating community colleges and prestige universities, all that is changing. To learn more about the program, go to AmericanHonors.org. Whether you are a business leader concerned with an educated workforce, a college administrator or alum worried about the growing expense of college — or a student or parent overwhelmed by the burden of student loan debt, there is now a practical solution. College has suddenly become more affordable.
If America can successfully bridge the transition from community colleges to four-year university degrees, our country will be far better off in the long run. And that's The Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser and is on the board of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. She appears weekly on WMAQ-Channel 5's 4:30 p.m. newscast, and can be reached at www.terrysavage.com. She is the author of the new book, "The New Savage Number: How Much Money Do You Really Need to Retire?" To find out more about Terry Savage and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.