The cost of a college education goes well beyond tuition prices. Textbooks, meal plans, fees and other costs quickly add up to make a college degree a high-priced commodity.
To address the rising cost of higher education, administrators at College of Coastal Georgia are rolling out several initiatives in an attempt to provide a more affordable and accessible education to the students it serves.
And students enrolled in the 2016-2017 academic year are set to save up to $1.8 million cumulatively.
These cost-saving initiatives include a push for online course material, the elimination of four course hours from the graduation requirement and a now-optional meal plan.
Greg Aloia, president of the college, said the University System of Georgia has prioritized reducing the cost and increasing the accessibility of receiving a college education in Georgia.
"It's system-wide, but it's also a nationwide issue," Aloia said. "And I like to think that we're pushing that boundary as a small, quality college in Coastal Georgia that can stand up and say we are doing our share to make college more affordable."
The per-student savings at CCGA depends on each student's circumstances, but Aloia said when simply dividing the overall $1.8 million by the number of students, the savings per student comes out to be nearly $600.
This year, full-and part-time students will no longer be required to purchase a campus meal plan.
"We heard our students loud and clear," said Jason Umfress, vice president for student affairs. "Our commuting students use their meal plan at varying levels and don't want to have to pay for a plan if it doesn't fit their schedule or lifestyle."
Nearly 80 percent of students commute to campus, Aloia said, so many were forced to waste money on a meal plan.
This issue became poignant to him, he said, when he spoke to a single mom who attends the college.
"She said 'Do you know how many lunches I could make for my kids for $430?'" he said.
High-priced textbooks present another major expense for college students. The average student will spend $655 on textbooks each year, according to the National Association of College Stores.
This year, the CCGA faculty are being encouraged to use open education resources or materials found online rather than standard textbooks. The CCGA faculty has implemented these types of resources in mathematics, physics and economics programs.
"That's taking books that were like $300 and taking them down to about $15, $20 or $30," said Tracy Pellett, vice president for academic affairs.
The school has also expanded book rentals, used book options and a price-match program.
"(Textbooks) are costs that we don't think of when we think of paying for higher education," Pellett said.
Last fall, the college also shortened the time students take to earn their degrees by eliminating four previously required credits from the graduation requirement.
The college eliminated two credits of an orientation course and refocused the physical education requirements into wellness electives.
Tuition and fees for the 2016-2017 academic year did not increase and will remain at $4,434 annually for full-time Georgia residents and full-time students from Florida, South Carolina and Alabama.
"If you come here, we don't want to just give you a great education. We want you to finish with great experiences and with the least cost as possible to get you through in that 120 hours," Aloia said.
At CCGA, nearly 60 percent of students have need-based scholarships and around 40 percent are first-generation college students, Aloia said. And many come from small towns in rural Georgia, he said.
"So you make this campus and its geographical location accessible and affordable," he said. "Part of our job... is to be a college of choice for the state of Georgia and to serve the state of Georgia."
Many students and families will benefit from these cost saving initiatives, Pellett said.
"At the end of the day, you've got to look at your students and the parents as your own family and then at what can you do to make your budget go as far as possible," he said. "That's the kind of approach that we've taken here.