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Reading Comprehension : The Cost of College in the United States

1. Attending a college or university in the United States is very expensive. A year at a prominent four-year university can cost almost $50,000, and this does not include the extra costs of housing, transportation, and other living expenses. There are, of course, less expensive options at colleges that also offer an excellent education. Most four-year colleges cost at least $10,000 per year, and many more are in the $20,000 to $30,000 range. For families in the United States, paying for the education of their children has become a major expense. Many families begin saving money from the time their children are born, and some states offer incentive plans for savings programs.

2. As expensive as the tuition is, it should be noted that this hardly covers all the cost of providing an education. Buildings, equipment, and salary costs are increasingly expensive, with advanced technology adding tremendous costs for laboratories and other specialized facilities. Universities and colleges constantly seek support from foundations, corporations, and industry, as well as from local, state, or federal government.

3. Still, for prospective students, the costs can be daunting. Students may have jobs in secondary school or college to help earn money for college tuition or other expenses, such as books, transportation, and housing. Colleges help students find work either on campus or in the nearby community to offset the costs. Community colleges are successful, in part, because they allow working adults to take classes during the evening or on weekends or to otherwise combine full- or part-time school with full- or part-time employment. Since World War II, an important benefit to military service has been the tuition support provided through the GI Bill, a law that provided financial assistance to allow American soldiers (known as GIs) a gateway to higher education that otherwise would not have been possible for many of these military veterans.

4. In addition to family funds and savings, there are two main types of funding for college: loans and grants. Loans are borrowed money that must be paid back, with interest, although the interest rates for student loans are lower than for some other types of loans. The early years of many workers' careers are spent trying to pay back student loans. Grants, including scholarships, are gifts of money that do not have to be paid back, but students often must fulfill certain obligations, such as maintaining a certain grade point average or demonstrating family need, in order to qualify. Scholarships are funds that are earned or competed for, and they may be based on the student's academic, athletic, or civic performance or on some other condition that has been met by the student or family. Identifying and accessing these funds can be confusing, and even discouraging, for families when they encounter the application forms. Colleges, secondary schools, and other organizations have offices to help students learn about funding resources.

5. Tuition is only the beginning of the financial investment required for a U.S. education. Costs include educational fees - some are paid by everyone each term, others are related to the courses being taken. Students must also pay for housing; books; other materials; meals; health insurance and health care; local day-to-day transportation, including parking; and transportation to and from home; telephone and Internet usage; and any other expenses. Normally, international students pay the higher out-of-state tuition rate at public institutions.

Another thing to consider is the investment of time. During student years, there is a loss of income. Even if the student has a job, often it is for fewer hours per week and at a lower rate than for full-time employment.

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