3 Families on Fighting Tuition Fees in Delaware and Pennsylvania

Illustrated by Jon Krause

Three local families break down their strategies for paying college and university tuition in Delaware and Pennsylvania.

From construction materials to products, prices are rising and study costs are really exploding. According to CNBC, they increased by more than 25% compared to 2009-19. In 1978, a typical private college education cost the current equivalent of $17,680. Forty years later, the average tab is $48,510. In 2021-22, a student attending princeton university will pay $77,690, all inclusive.

Not all kids go to Princeton, but that doesn’t mean paying for college is easy. Here are the stories of three families who made it work.

Better late than never

In early 2013, Ann D’Antonio’s son was a junior at Bishop Shanahan High School in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Like most kids his age, he’s starting to think about where he might go to college. But when Ann and her husband, Joe, saw the prices of the schools he was considering, they became concerned. “We had a little shock with the stickers,” says Ann. “We thought we were fine and would be able to figure things out.”

Even so, the D’Antonios needed a plan. “After a few sleepless nights wondering how we were going to do it, we decided to do something about it,” Ann says.

At that time, the couple came across a letter from Elite Collegiate Planning. Part of Chester County Paradigm Financial Group, Elite was founded by David Kozak, who is also the CEO of the national company College planning group. When they contacted Kozak’s company, it was a bit late for their son. Their daughter had graduated from Shanahan in a few years.

It was not easy, given the time available. The D’Antonios also had debt problems to solve and they didn’t have a mountain of savings. In fact, they almost lived paycheck to paycheck. Originally, they assumed that they would take on debt to pay for their education, even if it came with high interest rates. Kozak convinced them that this was a bad strategy and he set about implementing something more reasonable.

The D’Antonios refinanced their mortgage several times, each time taking advantage of better rates to lower house payments and gain equity to invest in college expenses. They also got rid of all but one credit card, which they used to buy everything they needed and take advantage of cash back opportunities. They paid the full balance each month.

Before, the family didn’t think much about shopping. Now they have assessed every expense. They made tough decisions about what was needed and what wasn’t, and it wasn’t a short-term program. Kozak convinced them that it could also apply to their everyday life and retirement planning.

The two D’Antonio children graduated in four years from catholic university in Washington, DC The couple had each taken out a small loan, so they would have the push to do well in class and work hard to find a job after graduation. Their son graduated in 2018 with a degree in politics and communication, and their daughter majored in psychology. “We are miraculously debt free,” says Ann. “And we paid our children’s school fees in cash.”

RELATED: The Ultimate Guide to Colleges and Universities Around Delaware in 2022


Ivy Aspirations met

Sue and Gary Hughes did all they could to save for their son’s college education. But there was a problem. “We would put money aside, but not at the Cornell University level,” says Gary.

In 2016, the East Coventry, Pennsylvania family realized there was a chance their son, a junior at Owen J. Roberts High School– would be accepted into the Ivy League institution, leaving the Hughes in a financial dilemma. “Cornell was on the radar, but not guaranteed,” says Sue.

Until it does.

Their son was accepted to Cornell, where he studied environmental and sustainability science. Meanwhile, the Hughes family handled the monetary burden responsibly, allowing them to pay for Eric’s four years without going into massive debt or burdening him with ugly student loan payments. With Kozak’s help, they maximized the amount of aid received and reduced their contributions to their son’s education. “Part of the plan was that we didn’t want to compromise our retirement to pay for our education,” says Gary. “We had a two-pronged plan that put our money in retirement-friendly places, but also maximized the money received for college.”

As a result, their son was able to realize his dream of graduating from Cornell – and the Hughes didn’t have to sacrifice their golden years.

One night terrors

It was around 2 a.m. and SAS Becker was living through one of those moments that must be familiar to any parent facing the prospect of paying for their education. Rather than engage in serious REM sleep, she was on her computer looking for ways she and her husband, Rob, could get their two kids through college without racking up the kind of debt that can cripple a family.


Her search led her to Judy Sciaky, founder of AP&G College Planning. The Beckers had no idea how huge this moment would be for their family. Sciaky helped clarify the college funding process, and his common-sense strategies and advice led to overwhelmingly positive results for the Beckers.

Their daughter is currently in second grade at McDaniel College in Maryland. Their son is a junior at Conestoga High School. The Beckers manage their current and future college payment obligations without incurring a mountain of debt. They expect the same conditions to prevail when their son enters university. And because they’ve learned so much, SAS has become something of a resource for friends. “A lot of people now come to me for consultations,” she says.

A high level of planning was key to the success of the Beckers. They are not exactly able to write a check that covers the fees charged by a school. SAS is a freelance photographer and Rob is a seventh grade science teacher at West Chester School District. “When you’re a public school teacher and an artist, you better look at the bottom line,” SAS says.

The net result includes more than the cost of a college education. With this in mind, it is crucial that families clarify their expectations with their undergraduate, so that the right choices are made.

After all, a four-year commitment could easily turn into six (or more) lost years of college education, which could cause many sleepless nights for even the most financially equipped parents.


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