If your financial situation has been such that you haven't been able to save for your child's college education and you want to avoid any student loans, college is still an option. The following is a plan to help you help your student finish college on the cheap.
Living at home
For most students who attend in-state schools, the cost of room and board away from home exceeds the cost of tuition. If you agree to host your student at home - as long as she stays in school with acceptable grades - you'll be making a huge contribution to her education without increasing your costs.
The American Opportunity tax credit provides a tax credit to couples filing joint tax returns with incomes under $160,000 per year. The tax credit provides up to $2,500 in refunded taxes for up to four years per student. The Lifetime Learning tax credit provides another $2,000 without limits on duration. These tax credits may substantially cover all of the tuition cost for full-time enrollment in a local community college. If not all of the cost, it will certainly substantially close the funding gap.
Many scholarships are needs based, meaning your student can get scholarships without being academically gifted. Instead, if your student is qualified by a host of seemingly random criteria (family heritage, parents' employment, where your student attended high school, etc.) your student may qualify for a scholarship. Plan to apply for 12 to 15 scholarships to help close the funding gap; expect to get two or three small scholarships.
If completing school in four years is impossible, even with the steps taken above, consider a six-year plan. By studying half-time, three semesters per year (including summer), your student can complete about two-thirds of an academic year annually, allowing her to finish in six years. This will substantially reduce the cost and allow her to work at least half time, enabling her to pay for school costs not covered by the above plan.
Some employers will fund 100 percent of college tuition for their full-time employees. Countless people have completed their undergraduate education while working full time. (I did.) A common program is a tuition reimbursement program that essentially requires the student to pay for the first semester out of pocket and, thereafter, reimburses students - provided their grades are above a certain threshold. A student loan could be used to fund the first semester and could be paid off with the final reimbursement.
As you can see, it is not only possible, it is practical for your children to complete college, even if you don't have a college savings plan. It requires extra time, patience and extra hard work, but lots of people do it. The value of a college education is too great to pass it up simply because the challenge of paying for that education looks daunting.