Gan Golan of Los Angeles dresses as the "Master of...

Gan Golan of Los Angeles dresses as the "Master of Degrees," holds a ball and chain representing his college loan debt, during Occupy DC activities in Washington. (Oct. 6, 2011) Credit: AP

Costs are rising, the global job is market changing, and the economy is still idling, so college students are smart to re-evalute what they need from the ivory tower. But they're doing it on the fly.

About a third of students nationwide now switch colleges at least once. And the number of transfer students on Long Island swelled 18 percent between 2007 and 2011. The Great Recession surely accounted for much of that, as many students moved from four-year schools to less expensive or more specialized two-year alternatives. But changing course doesn't come cheap. It adds to the ever-growing price tag while possibly bogging students down academically.

The accelerating transfer rate suggests students and parents need to do more homework before choosing schools. Overall cost -- including oft-overlooked living expenses and complicated financial aid packages -- is the centerpiece of that choice. Though going to a community college before transferring elsewhere for a more advanced degree may be a tough sell to an 18-year-old, it often makes financial sense.

Analyzing these costs and their corresponding benefits early on is crucial, as overwhelmed high schools often provide only generalized guidance during the application process.

Perhaps mobile is the new normal for college students. If that's the case, cooperation between two- and four-year institutions is paramount. Some Long Island universities are starting to make it easier to transfer community college credits. Two-year schools, meanwhile, must keep their end of the bargain with courses that fulfill university requirements.

Today's students will soon vie for jobs against local, national and global competition. In such an environment, a college degree -- the greatest investment many will ever make -- has become an economic rite of passage. It's time to start planning ahead for it.


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