TIME Education

Harvard Professors Say New Sex Assault Policy Is ‘Stacked Against the Accused’

Letter to university signed by 28 well-known academics

More than two dozen current and former Harvard Law School professors asked the university to reverse its new, more stringent sexual assault policy, arguing in a letter published Tuesday that the new rules unfairly disadvantage students accused of misconduct.

The new policy, which took effect this fall, includes a provision that requires a “preponderance of evidence” to determine whether sexual assault occurred and creates a university-wide Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution to handle misconduct complaints like harassment and rape, the Boston Globe reports.

It was announced after the U.S. Department of Education said in May that the Ivy League university was being investigated for its handling of those and similar claims.

The letter, which was signed by 28 well-known academics, alleges the new guidelines “are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused.”

Harvard disagreed in a statement Tuesday, saying the new guidelines “create an expert, neutral, fair, and objective mechanism for investigating sexual misconduct cases involving students.”

[Boston Globe]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 30

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. China’s real battle is for the hearts and minds of Hong Kong. And China is losing.

By Rachel Lu in Foreign Policy

2. California’s new ‘Yes means yes’ consent law is an important first step toward ending America’s campus sexual assault epidemic.

By Robin Wilson in the Chronicle of Higher Education

3. The English language makes it harder for students to learn math.

By Sue Shellenbarger in the Wall Street Journal

4. Long lines at polling places dampen turnout and disproportionately hit poor and minority communities. States must devote the resources to making voting work.

By Chris Kromm in Facing South

5. To direct financial aid where it is most needed, colleges should focus on first-generation students.

By Tomiko Brown-Nagin in TIME

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

Why Women’s Colleges Are Opening the Door for Men

Student working at desk in library
Getty Images

An effort to stop declining enrollment

Wilson College, a small women’s school in Pennsylvania, came close to shutting down once before. But a swell of opposition from staff and students in 1979 and a fundraising effort that raised $1.1 million in less than three months kept the college in business. Facing a similarly dire falloff in enrolled students and tuition revenue this year, the school turned to what it said is the only option for survival—admitting men.

One of a few dozen remaining women’s colleges in the U.S., Wilson said it can no longer afford to serve only half the population. While overall college enrollment has gone up by about 32% since 2000, enrollment at women-only colleges has fallen during that time by 29%. As a result, more women’s colleges are going co-ed. There were as many as 200 women’s colleges in 1960, according to the National Institute on Postsecondary Education. Today that number hovers around 44, as schools facing sluggish enrollment are forced to find ways to survive.

In the last two years, at least three other women’s colleges have gone coed or announced plans to. The first male students at William Peace University in Raleigh matriculated in 2012. Georgian Court University in New Jersey went co-ed last year. And Chatham University in Pittsburgh will admit men starting next fall.

At Wilson, undergraduate enrollment has been chronically low for 40 years, according to school spokesman Brian Speer. At its peak, the college enrolled 732 students, but it hasn’t had more than 338 since 1980. Last year, just under 600 applicants were offered admission—but only 100 chose to attend. That prompted the board of trustees to approve President Barbara Mistick’s plan to admit undergraduate men.

The process began last fall with undergraduate male commuter students. Male students who are living on campus arrived this fall. The shift to co-ed is part of a broader revitalization plan that also includes a 17% tuition reduction and a loan buyback program.

“This college has been trying to implement programs for 30 years to address the stagnant enrollment in the undergraduate college,” Speer said.“Those efforts have not gotten us anywhere near where we need to be.”

Not everyone is on board. Students and alumni have formed two groups to protest the change. One, Wilson College Women, is led by lawyer and 1980 graduate Gretchen Van Ness; it has 465 members on its Facebook page. Another, Wild Wilson Women, has more than 1,400 members.

Van Ness, who sat on the commission that made suggestions to Mistick, said it didn’t support coeducation as a way to boost enrollment. She accused the administration of breaking state Department of Education protocol that requires it to propose amendments to the college’s articles of incorporation and wait for approval before making changes. The college filed an application to change its charter with the state last year but didn’t wait for approval before admitting male commuter students that fall. Instead, Van Ness and others said, the college immediately advertised itself as co-ed, hired coaches for male athletic teams, and started preparing dorms for male residential students. Van Ness said this is illegal but Wilson maintains that changes to its charter in 1993 gave it permission to admit men.

“All of a sudden, Wilson’s identity as a women’s college had just disappeared,” Van Ness said.

In June, the women behind Wilson College Women were granted a hearing at the state Department of Education, where they made the case for state intervention that would block any further undergraduate coed operations at the school. The Department has not said when it will issue a ruling.

At Chatham University, the decision to admit men was much less controversial.

“It’s been a topic of conversation for 20 years. The idea was to keep the undergraduate women’s college and diversify the graduate programs,” said school spokesman Bill Campbell.

In 1992, men were invited to apply to graduate and other programs. Enrollment was temporarily boosted by the move, but it went down again in 2008.

“Less and less women are interested in women’s colleges today,” Campbell said.“Can we feasibly continue to put this much money to this mission decision?”

At Chatham, Campbell said the decision to admit men was proactive—the school relied on a February report from Standard & Poor’s that predicted the next few years to be especially tough for small, narrowly-focused colleges as an indication of trouble to come. Chatham got a low BBB- rating in the report.

Admitting men can be a financial solution for struggling schools, but it’s important for women to have a range of choices when they pick a college, said Marilyn Hammond, president of the Women’s College Coalition.

“What’s at stake is that there will be limits again to the options women have if women’s colleges don’t exist,” she said.

At Wilson, Van Ness and other opponents said they hope the state will protect that option. Van Ness was a junior and president of the student government at Wilson in 1979, when faculty and students protested the school’s closure, which was eventually blocked by a judge.

“We made history once,” Van Ness said. “As tough as it is out there in the constantly changing world of higher education, there is still a place for women’s colleges.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet based at Teachers College, Columbia University.

TIME Education

This Exclusive Hotel Chain Is Teaching Colleges How To Treat Students

University College students
Getty Images

It's part of an effort to serve students as customers

The audience is rapt as the man in the impeccably tailored black suit describes the secrets that have made his multibillion-dollar company an international leader in customer service.

They’re here to find out how to do a better job of it themselves, in this case from a general manager in the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain, at whose suburban St. Louis location this three-day conference is taking place.

It’s common for business leaders to seek out ideas that can improve their own customer service and employee morale. But the people in this audience are in the business of something that seems far removed from high-end hotels: They’re college presidents and administrators, mostly from community and technical schools. The conference was organized by the Continuous Quality Improvement Network, or CQIN, a small and little-known organization that uses private-sector lessons from companies — including Disney, Kimberly-Clark, Southwest Airlines, and Ritz-Carlton — to improve the notoriously impersonal and bureaucratic front-office student support functions blamed for worsening the already high college dropout rate.

“There’s almost a confrontational relationship with students in some places,” says John Politi, CQIN’s executive director.

Among the examples of higher education’s bad customer service: Registrars, financial-aid offices, and academic advisors are often spread out in separate offices open only during business hours in an era when increasing numbers of students go to school at night or on the weekends. And even when they are on duty, there can be long waits, since there’s an average of only one academic advisor for every 400 students, according to the advocacy organization Complete College America.

Increasing numbers of students who are the first in their families to go to college struggle to cut through this red tape and end up piling up and paying for credits they don’t need. Research by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, found that half of community-college students don’t even know advising is available to them.

“We’re a people business,” says Gayle Saunders, president of Richland Community College in Illinois and an at-large member of the CQIN executive board. “Yet we found out we had a number of places where it was easy for students to exit our colleges and maybe not ever come back.”

The first hurdle to addressing this is regarding students as customers. That may seem like a minor semantic distinction but Politi says higher education wrestles mightily with it.

“The ‘customer’ issue is alive and well,” he says. “The mindset, particularly from faculty members, is that a customer is always right, and they will not accept the concept that the student is always right.”

Jackson College President Daniel Phelan says it’s possible to cater to customers without compromising students.

“They are customers until the moment they walk into the classroom,” Phelan says of pupils at the Mississippi school. “Then they become students.”

Lee Rasch, president of Western Technical College in Wisconsin and a past president of CQIN, urges his faculty to compare students to members of a health or fitness club.

“Obviously, they need to take their own responsibility for their fitness or wellness regimen,” Rasch says. “But there are also things we can do that make a huge difference for the student — the customer.”

To Laura Helminski, a retired faculty member at Rio Salado College in Arizona who is active in CQIN, this sort hair-splitting misunderstands how many students think. “Our students say, ‘Damn tootin’ I’m a customer,’” she says. “‘I’m paying all this money to go here.’”

It was Helminski who instructed the higher-education types at the conference to pick up their pencils after Ritz-Carlton general manager Doug Chang left the stage (quipping, before he did, “You’re not our usual group”) and make the audacious comparison of their experiences in the elegant hotel with students’ perceptions of their campuses.

“’We’re here to help you,’” she says, summarizing the Ritz staff’s credo. “Translate that back to your own organization. You have places marked, ‘No students.’ ‘Faculty parking only.’ What kind of message does that send?”

The point of all of these exercises seems stunningly self-evident: that students should be at the center of what colleges do.

“My boss is not the board. My boss is not the president. My boss is not the academic vice president,” says Tom Thibodeau, who teaches a management philosophy called “servant leadership” at Viterbo University in Wisconsin, where many students are the children of area farmers. “My boss is a farmer.”

There’s a practical reason for this renewed emphasis on the consumer, says Davis Jenkins, a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center. As states cut the amount they spend on higher education, public universities and colleges have become increasingly dependent on tuition.

“And the more they rely on tuition, the more they’re going to have to have programs that lead somewhere, and to have programs that lead somewhere, they have to be responsive,” Jenkins says.

At Western Technical College, everyone who works on the president’s floor of the administration building holds something akin to the daily employee lineup at Ritz-Carlton hotels. The goal is to be as prepared for problems with students or other employees as the Ritz-Carloton is for upcoming functions and arriving guests.

At Richland Community College, new employees go through eight hours of training in practices modeled on principles of customer service from the Disney theme parks, including moderating their tone of voice and never considering a conversation finished until the customer is satisfied.

“It’s a very personal approach,” says Saunders, Richland’s president. “We don’t let you go until we’ve got everything taken care of that you need.”

A monthly performance scorecard the school uses to track things such as the number of students who are on track to degrees and the number getting jobs when they finish was based on a concept used by the Poudre Valley Health System in Colorado. “It’s focused on measuring what we’re doing and continuously trying to improve it every day,” says Saunders.

The presidents say these changes have lowered their number of dropouts and increased their graduation rates—dramatically, in some cases—though CQIN is only now beginning to collect statistics about this.

“We are large businesses and need to be entrepreneurial, even if we are nonprofit,” Saunders says.

Without that urgency, Phelan says, “we’re going to be less and less relevant to more and more people.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

TIME Education

The Reason College Costs More Than You Think

The Lyceum, oldest building on the campus of the University of Mississippi on April 12, 2008 in Oxford, Mississippi.
The Lyceum, the oldest building on the campus of the University of Mississippi Wesley Hitt—Getty Images

Freshmen say they’ll finish in four years, but most will be paying tuition for five or six years

When Alex Nichols started as a freshman at the University of Mississippi, he felt sure he’d earn his bachelor’s degree in four years. Five years later, and Nichols is back on the Oxford, Miss. campus for what he hopes is truly his final semester.

“There are a lot more students staying another semester or another year than I thought there would be when I got here,” Nichols says. “I meet people once a week who say, ‘Yes, I’m a second-year senior,’ or, ‘I’ve been here for five years.’”

They’re likely as surprised as Nichols still to be toiling away in school.

Nearly nine out of 10 freshmen think they’ll earn their bachelor’s degrees within the traditional four years, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. But the U.S. Department of Education reports that fewer than half that many actually will. And about 45 percent won’t have finished even after six years.

That means the annual cost of college, a source of so much anxiety for families and students, often overlooks the enormous additional expense of the extra time it will actually take to graduate.

“It’s a huge inconvenience,” says Nichols, whose college career has been prolonged for the common reason that he changed majors and took courses he ended up not needing. His athletic scholarship — Nichols was a middle-distance runner on the cross-country team — ran out after four years. “I had to get some financial help from my parents.”

The average added cost of just one extra year at a four-year public university is $63,718 in tuition, fees, books, and living expenses, plus lost wages each of those many students could have been earning had they finished on time, according to the advocacy group Complete College America.

A separate report by the Los Angeles-based Campaign for College Opportunity finds that the average student at a California State University campus who takes six years instead of four to earn a bachelor’s degree will spend an additional $58,000 and earn $52,900 less over their lifetimes than a student who graduates on time, for a total loss of $110,900.

“The cost of college isn’t just what students and their families pay in tuition or fees,” says Michele Siqueiros, the organization’s executive director. “It’s also about time. That’s the hidden cost of a college education.”

So hidden that most families still unknowingly plan on four years for a bachelor’s degree, says Sylvia Hurtado, director of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.

Although the institute does not poll parents in its annual survey, “that high percentage of freshmen [who are confident they’ll finish in four years] is probably reflecting their parents’ expectation — ‘This is costing me a lot, so you’re going to be out in four years.’ So the students think, ‘Sure, why not?’ I don’t think the parents even initially entertain or plan for six years or some possible outcome like that.”

Yet many students almost immediately doom themselves to taking longer, since they register for fewer courses than they need to stay on track. Surveys of incoming freshmen in California and Indiana who said they expected to graduate in four years found that half signed up for fewer courses than they’d needed to meet that goal, according to a new report by the higher-education consulting firm HCM Strategists.

It’s not entirely the students’ fault.

More than half of community-college students are slowed down by having to retake subjects such as math and reading that they should have learned in high school, says Complete College America. And at some schools, budget cuts have made it difficult to register for the courses students do need to take. Two-thirds of students at one California State University campus weren’t able to get into their required courses, according to a 2010 study by the University of California’s Civil Rights Project.

Most state financial-aid programs, meanwhile, cover only four years. “They do not fund a fifth or sixth year,” says Stan Jones, president of Complete College America and a former Indiana commissioner of higher education. “And by that time the parents’ resources and the students’ resources have run out. So that fifth year is where you borrow.”

Students at the most elite colleges and universities tend not to have this problem, which means that schools with some of the highest annual tuition can turn out to be relative bargains. These schools “would have a revolt if their students had to go a fifth year,” Jones says. “But that recognition has really not hit the public sector yet, about the hidden cost of that extra year.”

Policymakers urge speeding students through remedial classes more quickly, adding more sections of required courses so students can get in when they need them, and encouraging students to take 15 credits per semester instead of the typical 12.

Change won’t come soon enough for Nichols, who is determined that it won’t take more than one extra semester to finish his degree in integrated marketing communications.

“That’s time you’re wasting,” he says, “that you could be out making money.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

MONEY best and worst jobs

The 10 Worst-Paying Jobs that Require a Master’s Degree

Librarian helping patron with book question
Hill Street Studios—Getty Images

Thinking about going back to grad school to pursue one of these careers? You might want to think again.

More education doesn’t always translate into more money.

Research engine FindTheBest recently analyzed median pay for hundreds of jobs in the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics employment projections report, and found that a master’s degree is no guarantee of high pay.

In fact, in a handful of professions that typically require a master’s degree, average salaries are below the U.S. median income of $51,058.

Figuring in the cost of a graduate education, it’s questionable whether entering these low-pay professions that typically require a graduate degree makes economic sense. Here are the 10 worst paying jobs that typically require a master’s degrees, according to FindTheBest:

1. Rehabilitation Counselors

Median Pay: $33,880

What They Do: Help people manage and overcome mental and physical disabilities so they can work and live independently. Counselors work in many settings, including schools, prisons, independent living facilities, rehabilitation agencies and private practice. Note: Though employment of rehabilitation counselors is expected to grow faster than average for all occupations, pay isn’t keeping up.

2. Mental Health Counselors

Median Pay: $40,080

What They Do: Help clients develop strategies to manage emotional disorders and improve their overall wellbeing. In addition to a master’s degree, counselors typically need a license to practice.

3. Survey Researchers

Median Pay: $45,050

What They Do: Design surveys and collect and analyze data to understand people’s opinions and beliefs. Survey researchers work for research firms, polling organizations, nonprofits, corporations, colleges and universities and government agencies. Some survey researchers only have a bachelor’s degree but more technical positions require a master’s.

4. Marriage and Family Therapists

Median Pay: $46,670

What They Do: Provide counseling to couples and families, and treat mental health and substance abuse problems. Most have a master’s degree and must have at least two years of clinical experience and a state license.

5. Curators

Median Pay: $49,590

What They Do: Manage a collection of items for an institution. Most commonly, they work with art or historical items for museums, but curators can also work in galleries, zoos, and botanical gardens. Most curators have an advanced degree in their field of specialty.

6. Archivists

Median Pay: $47,340

What They Do: Collect, organize and manage items that have historical value. Archivists commonly work (not surprisingly) in archives as well as libraries. Most have a master’s degree in the field related to their work.

7. Healthcare Social Workers

Median Pay: $49,830

What They Do: Work with individuals and families to provide support for coping with chronic, acute and terminal illnesses. They work in clinics, hospitals, senior living facilities and mental health institutions. Though most social workers only need a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, at least two years practical experience and state licensing is required to work in a clinical setting.

8. Historians

Median Pay: $52,480

What They Do: Research, analyze and interpret past events by studying historical information. Historians work in government agencies, museums, historical societies, research organizations, nonprofits and even consulting firms. Most positions require a master’s degree, but some research positions also require a doctorate.

9. School and Career Counselors

Median Pay: $53,610

What They Do: Help students develop social skills and succeed in school. Career counselors focus on helping students make career or educational program decision. School counselors work in public and private schools. Career counselors work in colleges, government agencies, career centers and private practices.

10. Librarians

Median Pay: $55,370

What They Do: Help people find information and conduct research for personal and professional use. Librarians work for local government, colleges and universities, companies and elementary and secondary schools. Most librarians have a master’s degree in library science, but some positions require a teaching credential or a degree in the field they specialize in.

TIME LGBT

Colleges See Gay Students as Growth Market

With enrollment flat, schools are courting LGBT students

Growing up as a fundamentalist Christian in Austin, Texas, Josh Bergeleen says he “didn’t know that gay was a thing.”

That changed when he went off to college at Emory University in Atlanta, and he came out at 18, shortly after beginning his freshman year. Four years later, Bergeleen credits Emory’s welcoming environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students as a key factor not only in his discovering his own identity, but in helping him stay on track to graduate from the business school this year.

“I wouldn’t have been able to continue if not for their support,” Bergeleen says. At one particularly rough point after coming out, Bergeleen stopped talking to his own family and says Emory’s LGBT student support office “made me feel comfortable with myself.”

lgbt-josh-bergeleen
Student Josh Bergeleen

Experiences like that are important advertisements for schools that are increasingly competing to attract LGBT students. Their efforts are more than a response to the legal and cultural sea change in favor of LGBT rights. They’re good business. Nationally, total college enrollment is stagnant and has been declining at some institutions. Meanwhile, the median age that lesbian, gay and bisexual adults say they came out is 20, exactly when they’re college age, according to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center. And with 92 percent of those polled saying that society has gotten more accepting of them in the last decade, LGBT students are becoming more visible at the same time overall enrollment is flattening out.

“It’s a competitive advantage,” says Genny Beemyn, director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, one of the nation’s first on-campus support centers for LGBT students. “If you want to attract the best and brightest students, you don’t want competitors to get a leg up.”

A growing number of campuses are launching programs to attract and hold onto LGBT students, including college fairs aimed at LGBT applicants, LGBT student-support offices, special graduation ceremonies, and housing and healthcare for transgender students. Colleges and universities are also putting more resources into LGBT student centers, including by hiring full-time employees to direct them.

At Kennesaw State University’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer and Questioning Student Retention Services Office and Resource Center, director Jessica Duvall says she has seen the annual number of visits rise from 158 in 2012, when she was hired, to 494 last year. She has launched programs such as an annual gay history exhibit and a “rainbow graduation ceremony.”

“What is happening now [with LGBT students] is what happened with minorities,” says Jerome Ratchford, vice president for student success at Kennesaw, who was hired 26 years ago to help recruit black students.

Ratchford says a “critical mass of gay students came on campus and organized” in recent years. Administrators determined that, “if they met the needs of these students, the students [would] have a higher probability of being successful.” That would “change the culture” of the school, and lead to more LGBT students choosing it, he says.

During his time at Emory, Bergeleen led gay student groups on campus and worked in the admissions office. Both activities led him to discover “a great demand” among LGBT students for assurances that the colleges and universities they are considering attending will support their identities, he said.

There are about 200 LGBT student centers nationwide, according to Ronni Sanlo, a founding chair of the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals. While there’s no data on the year-over-year increase, Sanlo says that they have even started popping up in the 29 states whose discrimination laws don’t mention sexual orientation and gender identity. Sanlo spoke in Kentucky in the spring, for example, and discovered three new centers on campuses there.

One tool that has helped LGBT students find supportive schools is the Campus Pride Index. The index rates campuses on a scale of one to five stars based on a voluntary survey of more than 50 questions ranging from, “Does your campus offer health insurance coverage to employees’ same-sex partners?” to “Does your campus have a LGBT alumni group?”

More than 400 campuses have now taken the survey, an uptick of 35 percent in the last two years, says Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, the organization that oversees the index.

“Campuses today want to be called gay friendly,” Windmeyer says. “They see they’re going to lose students if they’re not, [and] realize the pool of non-LGBT students is dwindling.”

At the same time, Windmeyer says one of the obstacles in continuing to attract and, especially, retain LGBT students is the delicate issue of knowing who they are. It was only three years ago that Elmhurst College in Illinois became the first American college or university to ask students about their sexual orientation on its admissions application. Since then, only a handful of other schools have followed suit.

“Recruitment starts by learning about a population and what their interests are,” says Gary Rold, dean of admissions at Elmhurst. Until asking prospective students, Rold says, “We didn’t know much about this population.”

Among the things Elmhurst has learned about its LGBT population is that they are more likely than the rest of the student body to be nonwhite and the first in their families to go to college. About half of the college’s incoming students who identify as LGBT are also black or Hispanic, compared with about a third of the general student population. Elmhurst has acted on this knowledge by providing additional resources to aid these new students in their transition to college and highlighting clubs, financial aid and other services aimed at LGBT students on its website.

Experiences like Rold’s at Elmhurst are why Windmeyer says that campuses will best serve LGBT students when they understand where they’re coming from and what they need to flourish on campus. A first step in this direction would be to ask in applications about students’ sexual and gender orientations, he says. But there is resistance to that idea, for reasons ranging from religious believes to concerns about privacy.

“You can’t do it in a bubble without having a way to track who they are,” Windmeyer says.

Bergeleen, for one, is confident that experiences like his will become more common.

“As there is more awareness of LGBT [people] in the larger community,” he says, “more and more kids are going to want to know what resources and information are available. Schools will catch up.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

MONEY Ask the Expert

Why You Might Want More Than One College Savings Account

Robert A. Di Ieso

Q: I have college savings for my children in both education savings accounts (ESAs) and 529s. Is there a difference in the way those accounts are calculated for potential financial aid? Would there be any benefit to consolidating into one type of account? — Mike Spofford, Green Bay, Wisc.

A: The good news: There is no difference in how Coverdell ESAs and 529 savings plans factor into your child’s student aid, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Edvisors.com, a website that helps people plan and pay for college.

Both of these education accounts are considered qualified tuition plans. So as long as they are owned by a student or a parent, the plans are reported as an asset on financial aid forms and have a minimal impact on your aid eligibility (federal aid will be reduced by no more than 5.64% of the value of the account). What’s more, your account distributions are not considered income, Kantrowitz adds.

Education savings accounts and 529s share other appealing features: Your savings grows tax-deferred and withdrawals are tax free as long as the money goes toward qualified education expenses. If you spend it on anything else, you will be hit by income taxes on the earnings as well as a 10% penalty.

One of the biggest differences is how much you can put in. ESA contributions max out at $2,000 per child per year, while 529s have no contribution limits. However, if you put more than $14,000 a year into your child’s 529—or $28,000 as a couple—the excess counts against your lifetime gift tax exclusion and must be reported to the IRS. You can get around that by using five-year tax averaging, which treats the gift as if it were made over the next five years.

Coverdell ESAs give you more investment options—from certificates of deposit to individual stocks and bonds to mutual funds and ETFs; you’re usually limited to a small number of mutual funds in a 529 plan. But you don’t need that much investing flexibility, Kantrowitz notes, since you want to keep risks and fees to a minimum over the short time you have to save for college.

Another key difference is that ESA funds can be spent on K-12 expenses; 529s must wait until college. ESAs also come with age restrictions. You can contribute only while the beneficiary is under 18, and to avoid penalties and taxes you must spend the funds by the beneficiary’s 30th birthday (with a 30-day grace period).

You can get around this age limit by changing the beneficiary to an under-18 close relative of the beneficiary. Or you can roll it over into a 529 plan with no tax penalty. (You cannot roll your 529 into a Coverdell ESA, however.) In fact, later-in-life education is one of the only reasons to consolidate plans. Otherwise, says Kantrowitz, there is no compelling reason to combine your two savings accounts into one.

MONEY College

12 Things We Wish We’d Known When We Were 18

Girl moving off to college
Eric Raptosh Photography—Corbis

Suze Orman and other experts share their financial advice for the Class of 2018. Follow these tips to keep your college experience from becoming a major money mistake.

Prepping for freshman year at college typically includes activities like shopping for dorm essentials, reviewing orientation packets, and Googling your new roommate.

Most students don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how they’ll manage their money in this new phase of their lives.

And yet, what you do in those first few years of parental emancipation can affect you for years—or decades—to come. Students graduated last year with an average $35,200 in college-related debt, including federal, state and private loans, as well as debt owed to family and accumulated via credit cards, according to a Fidelity study. Half of those students said they were surprised by just how much debt they’d accumulated.

To make sure the class of 2018 gets off on the right foot, MONEY gathered sage advice from top financial experts about the lessons they wish they, their kids, or their friends had known before starting school.

1. Limit your loans. “Do not take out more in student loans than what you are projected to earn in your first year after college. If you only expect to make $40,000, you better not take out more than $40,000. The chances of you being able to pay it back is close to nil. If you need to take a private loan, you’re going to a college you can’t afford. Remember, going to an expensive school doesn’t guarantee success. The school never makes you, you make the school.” —Suze Orman, host of The Suze Orman Show and author of The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke

2. Finish in four. “Many kids are finishing school in five or six years. But every extra year is potentially an extra $30,000 to 40,000 in expenses. Map out your coursework and figure out exactly what you’ll need to do each semester. Be vigilant about sticking to your plan. Try to catch up on any credits by taking classes at a community college over the summer.” —Farnoosh Torabi, author of You’re So Money

3. Study money 101. “Sign up for an economics or personal finance course. This way, when you graduate, you’ll be better equipped to manage money for the rest of your life.” —Brittney Castro, CEO of Financially Wise Women

4. Leave the car at home. “Everyone feels like they need a car, but with the combination of sharing services like Uber, Lyft, Zipcar and public transport, that isn’t always the case. If you’re living in a major metropolitan center or on campus, consider leaving your car behind. It’s much cheaper to use one of these car services than it is to pay for insurance, gas, parking, car maintenance and car payments.” —Daniel Solin, author of The Smartest Money Book You’ll Ever Read

5. Lead rather than follow. “Especially in college, you’re going to be surrounded by people doing dumb things financially. You’ll see people financing their lifestyle with student loans or their parents’ money. Don’t feel bad if you can’t afford the same things as others. I knew a student who was financing his whole college experience with debt and he was always asking people to go shopping with him. If I’d tried to keep pace, I’d have ended up in the same debt-ridden place as him.”—Zac Bissonnette, author of Debt-Free U

6. Find free fun. “You can still do fun things at school, without spending a lot of money. You’re paying an activity fee in your tuition, so you ought to make sure you’re taking full advantage of whatever the school offers for free—be it concerts, trips, lectures. The school I went to provided grants to help students travel abroad and offered free plays and trips through different clubs.” —Farnoosh Torabi

7. Be purposeful with plastic. “The idea that you need to build credit in college is wildly overrated. It’s not a bad idea to build credit, but having built up a bad credit history will hurt you more than having no credit history. You don’t need to feel pressure to get a credit card. You can get by just fine with cash and a debit card; no one is expecting you to have a ton of borrowing history when you’re getting your first apartment anyway.” —Zac Bissonnette

8. Put your budget on autopilot. “Keep track of the money you’re getting in from loans and your parents, as well as your expenses. Use an app like Mint.com, which lets you link your debit and credit cards to your online account to track your spending and easily help you keep on budget.” —Daniel Solin

9. Enlist Mom and Dad. “Check in with your parents once a month and review your spending with them. Talking about this will help you to avoid what I call ‘budget creep,’ where all of a sudden you’re spending $30 a day on food and entertainment. All those little extras add up and you could be spending over a hundred a week… on what?”—Neale Godfrey, chairwoman of Children’s Financial Inc.

10. Protect your stuff. “College students may not think they have a lot of valuable possessions. But think about the value of electronic devices alone, not to mention textbooks, clothes, even that ratty futon. The good news is that renters insurance is typically inexpensive and can protect you from fires, theft and other incidents. The even better news is that students’ stuff may be covered by their parents’ homeowners insurance. Check the policy prior to hitting the books.”—Kara McGuire, author of The Teen Money Manual

11. Establish rules with roomies. “If you’re renting an apartment with friends, be sure everyone and their parents sign the lease. Try to have everyone’s name on the utilities bills as well. Kids will take advantage of other kids, and you don’t want to be the one who is stuck being responsible for everything. If you can’t attach everyone’s names to all the bills, have them prepay. Also, make sure everyone chips in for general expenses like cleaning supplies and toilet paper, so you don’t end up paying for all of that as well.” —Neale Godfrey

12. Share with discretion. “Social networks are a public record. Your future employers will look you up on your social sites and judge you based on what they see. So something that you thought was cute in college could keep you from getting the job. Know that every move you make on those sites could have a direct consequence on your ability to land a job.” —Suze Orman

 

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser