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Cutting College Costs –
Stretching Tuition Dollars


The Educator Magazine - Winter 2004
by: Director of Marketing and Development for iStudySmart.com


Schedules are jammed, money is always an issue, and you struggle to move ahead while balancing work and life. Is it possible to cut costs, save time and still pursue an education? The answer is “yes” if you utilize an option known as “credit by examination” or, more commonly called, “testing out.”

Over 3800 colleges and universities offer credit for passing CLEP or DSST (used by DANTES) proficiency exams; that is, you take the test, you get the credit, whether you’ve attended a class or not. This allows you to earn credit for what you already know or to self study in some area and bypass classroom time. The military has used DANTES-sponsored examinations exams for years as a way to allow enlistees to earn college credit while in the service.

Other schools may offer their own proficiency exams and permit you to take exams and earn credit. For example, Excelsior College (www.excelsior.edu) offers ECE exams, which allow you to test out of Excelsior College courses. Because Excelsior exams are known to be of high academic quality, there are a few additional colleges that accept ECE credits, but generally, the credit earned by a school-specific proficiency exam is not transferable if you move to another school.

The College Board, creators and administrators of standardized tests such as SAT, AP and CLEP concluded in their annual survey that college fees and tuition have increased from 6 to 14%, with the greatest increases being in public universities See more here... As these fees increase, students need to find ways to stretch tuition dollars. At the same time, universities are searching to find ways to serve the working adult community.

Credits Earned
How many credits can be earned this way? The number varies from college to college and sometimes by department within a college. But many schools allow up to 30 credit hours this way, allowing students to bypass mandatory fees associated with on-campus attendance of class. Non traditional universities also accept credit by examination. University of Phoenix accepts 30 hours, although there are restrictions about how many hours are allowed in particular subject areas.

If you have a program or school of interest, they should check with admissions and ask these questions:
  1. Do you accept credit by examination?
  2. Do you only accept certain exams?
  3. What are the passing scores?
  4. Is there a transfer fee for these credits?
  5. Do I need to be enrolled before taking the tests?
Test Costs
The fees for taking tests start at $70-$80. Sometimes the testing center will charge an administration fee. Many colleges are open testing centers, which means that anyone may take a test there, even if not enrolled. Some only allow test takers who are enrolled in that school. For more information about testing centers or fees, visit the website for DSST at www.getcollegecredit.com, or CLEP, www.collegeboard.com .

How does one get ready for such an exam? There are companies that sell test prep materials. Some of these guides are simply outlines and some are in-depth materials. There are some published materials as well as websites that offer quick reviews. If you already have some knowledge of the subject matter, these might be a way to prepare for the test. However, if you are not familiar with the subject, there are also published materials, in workbook form, CD-ROM or online, that are in-depth, offering guided study and sample exams. In the best case scenario, these materials help you concentrate on what you need to know for the exam and steer you away from what you do not need to know for the exam. In addition, the websites for DSST or CLEP exams have information about the exam contents and bibliographies for books related to the test subject.

What’s the catch?
So what’s the catch? Self study requires some discipline. When the weather is beautiful, when you’re tired, or a good movie is available, it’s hard to stick with studying. Some students prefer sitting in class and listening to an instructor or need that accountability, but with a little effort, it’s possible to study at your own pace, in your own space and save class time. If a student challenges (tests) out of an introductory course or elective, he/she can move more quickly into advanced courses. And there is the ability to save money –save the cost of sitting in class, not only in tuition fees, but in missed work to attend class, baby sitting costs, parking/gas, etc.

Written by the Director of Marketing and Development for iStudySmart.com, a developer of guided study courses for DSST, CLEP and ECE exams.