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Pop quiz, everyone! True or false: Nevada is known as a bastion of affordable higher education.

Okay, it’s a trick question. Answer: It used to be cheap, but that’s changing fast. Over the last five years, college tuition in Nevada crept up an average of 8 percent annually — well above the national average. For example, students enrolling in UNLV this summer will pay $191 a credit, up from $171 per credit for the 2012 fall semester. That’s $20 that could have gone toward study aids, like a case of Corona. The good news is that Nevada is one of a dwindling handful of about a dozen states that have a prepaid tuition program, which allows parents and grandparents to lock in cheaper tuition prices for future college grads who are currently toddling around in Huggies.

“This can’t completely solve the problem of the rising costs of college, but it’s part of the answer,” says state Treasurer Kate Marshall. The enrollment period is open through Feb. 28, but this particular window of opportunity has a few perks thrown in: First, enrollees will pay 2012 rates instead of 2013 tuitions, which are already expected to be nearly 12 percent higher; second, enrollees can enter a contest to win a full year of paid tuition at a university or two years at a community college. (Info at nvprepaid.org.)

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[HEAR MORE: Learn how tuition hikes will affect students on “KNPR’s State of Nevada.”]

There’s a poster parent for the Nevada Prepaid Tuition Program, not surprisingly, right at UNLV: Diane Sessions, who works in the invoicing department at the university. “I’ve been working here since 1987, when tuition was $36 a credit, so I’ve seen (tuition costs rise) up close. It’s gone up 375 percent since then.” She enrolled three of her grandchildren in the program in five-year payment plans. “I feel wonderful about it, because you can take a lot of things away from people, but it’s hard to take an education away. I don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring, so as long as I’m alive and can afford it, I want to give my grandchildren a decent chance at an education.”

Of course, would-be enrollees should do their homework. Because this is an investment, it’s neither guaranteed nor insured by the state or federal government. That said, while many states shuttered their prepaid programs after their investments took a dive during the Great Recession, Marshall says Nevada’s took only a slight dip to 97 percent funded. (Today, it’s 105 percent funded.) “There ultimately needs to be a comprehensive answer to the issue of rising college costs,” Marshall says. Until tuition reform happens, this may be one of Nevada’s few smart bets.

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