Half Price College Tuition!

There is a huge emphasis on trades education around the country these days. Plumbers, electricians, welders, and HVAC professionals are in high demand, but schools have been pushing four-year college curricula for so long, there is a shortage of trained tradesmen. Community colleges are developing trades programs that address new technologies, and your high school students might be eligible for half price tuition. A real education is available without student loans.

As parents, we could see it happening: degree-holding, book-learned workers vying for sedentary office jobs with decreasing salaries, with loan debt. At the same time, we felt the pinch of hiring skilled contractors for repairs and remodeling. Supply and demand was producing a bleak economic picture. When a tax preparer shared the range of income trades clients were bringing in during their mid-20s, we knew there was a big change coming.

In his sophomore year, #2 announced he was no longer interested in the highly academic career he had expressed interest in steadily since third grade. That’s entirely fine; then what are you going to do? Welding, Mom. The world needs more welders. Okay, great! “What do we need to do to get you there?” I wondered. There were two years until graduation.

We discovered how blessed we are when Metro Community College announced its 22 career academies starting in 2017, and #2’s academic counselor helped secure him a spot in the Welding Academy. There was a brand spankin’ new, multi-million dollar education facility being built at Fort Omaha, and he would be in the first academy program there. Tuition is half price, he gets both high school and college credits, and has an adjusted school schedule to attend classes each afternoon. We are covering the costs related to the program: tuition, transportation, gear, books, fees. The high school made all the arrangements, and worked with him to adjust his class schedule. They even provided his very expensive textbook.

There was already a program for at-risk students, which exposed them to a variety of trades and they could select areas for further education. When local companies came together and provided funding for the new trades facility, MCC developed specific trades academies in partnership with local school systems to provide the workforce training needed right away, and to draw in a variety of students from the area.

What a terrific blessing! This program has made a huge difference in #2’s outlook, confidence, independence, and attitude. He has a 4.0 gpa in his college courses — and that will affect his high school gpa, as well. He’ll graduate high school with a year of welding classes under his belt, important career contacts, and the support of an incredible panel of trades professionals. MCC offers a full two-year applied science degree, so he is well on his way.

Learning real skills! With half-price tuition! Doing real-world, hands-on projects! Collaborating with students in other trades courses! This is an education that for many students is more valuable, and more affordable, than other options.

As it happened, #1 attended a high school heavy on college prep, and we paid as much in high school tuition as for a college education. He ended up bypassing college and going straight into the military. #2 chose to attend the local public school, and was exposed to a wider variety of classes. His own plan was a four-year college experience, attending community college starting the summer he turned 16. He would be eligible for half price tuition for three summers, and would transfer those gen ed credits to another local university. We would pay college tuition through high school years. But his college plan did not happen because he was on camp staff for three summers.

Reduced tuition will end with this summer’s courses, so #2 plans to take classes over the summer while working as much as possible. The total cost for this year and a half, with transportation, will be about $1,500. Even at full price next year, the tuition is so reasonable that #2 will be able to easily pay his bill without student loans. Zero debt is the best start he could have.

The MCC faculty and staff could not be more awesome for these students. The instructor is a veteran of the welding trade. He has seen what it takes to succeed, where technology is headed, and the discipline needed to work in the field. He encourages the students to pursue at least a two-year degree, and they respect him enough to listen and understand that. The strong partnership of the college with local businesses shows there are solid job prospects and security in the industry. This is a great program! We couldn’t be more thrilled to have this present itself at just the right time.

The key for us was the high school academic counselor, who was aware of the upcoming program, saw a match with our student, and approached this in just the right way to engage him. Counselors can be run ragged, especially in the spring semester, so her response and action in this regard was excellent. MCC has been increasing its program awareness the past few years, and it is making a difference in academic counseling offices.

Check out your community college for information on trades programs, especially for high school students. They can open doors and provide skills for a reasonable investment in the future of the students, as well as the community.



Hawaii Cruise Vacation 2017

In 2017 we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary! I remember when I thought couples celebrating their “Silver Anniversary” were sooo old. Well. I’m not old. So that was a misconception, certainly.

To celebrate, we took a long-in-the-planning trip to Hawaii. After my medical scare in February/March, we decided that we would definitely continue with our plans. It made us realize we needed to experience these things we dreamed about and saved for, and not pass up opportunities to enjoy this life.

We’d saved for this trip, and had just signed contracts and made the down payment two weeks before I found out there was even a medical issue. Pre-paying still happened. We postponed a house project instead, so it all worked out really well. Using a travel agent with AAA was the best decision for us. We got the best deal, had everything taken care of in advance, and really appreciated the top drawer service. Our cruise package included a lot of things we hadn’t thought about, so we felt we got great value. On shore, we stayed well under our “extra” budget at restaurants and souvenir shops, too. I was really happy to discover this.

Our trip was at the end of September and into October. We flew to Honolulu, then boarded Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America for a cruise to other islands and back to Oahu. It was magical. The islands are beautiful, fragrant and welcoming. The ocean is soothing. Everything is quite laid back. The people are amazing. We spent two days in Waikiki with tours of Honolulu and Pearl Harbor. We walked everywhere: along the beach, to restaurants, to a parade, to a little Christmas shop. Our hotel gave us a room upgrade, with two balconies: one had a clear view of the ocean that was really something. The beach was great for walking and just relaxing. We needed the relaxing.

On our ship, we had excellent room location, it was very quiet, and our tiny balcony let us enjoy many sunsets and sunrises. We had a complimentary bottle of non-alcoholic wine (which was actually very good) and bowl of fruit, which lasted a few days for snacking. I enjoyed the cruise part; DH maybe not as much. Unlimited buffets concerned me. But I took small portions of some incredible food, left some on the plate most of the time, and was able to pretty much nosh my way through breakfast and dinner. We had two fancier, non-buffet meals. It was all very well done, with impeccable service and calming atmosphere. All included, of course.

The cruise offered shore excursions, and this being our first cruise and our first visit to Hawaii, we opted for several of them, even though they were not cheap. Our favorites were a helicopter tour over a volcano with an active lava flow (we sat in the front seats with nothing but glass all around us); a walking tour of the National Botanical Gardens; and a tour of the eastern side of Oahu with stops at gorgeous beaches — and Dole Plantation. The cost for these excursions was figured into our tour package and was prepaid.

My phone bricked on day four. I only lost one day’s worth of my own photos, and all my texts. I had two months left on my phone payments, but it was out of warranty. Fortunately, there was a Verizon store a short cab ride from the ship, so we were able to pay off the last two months and set up the new phone on the account in relatively short order. I can’t say that was a cruise expense, though. It went in our utility expenses.

The only really hard part of the trip was returning. Not only do all flights from Hawaii to the mainland leave late in the evening, but also, we arrived in Omaha at nearly midnight — the following day! The bliss lasts, though, and I’m still saying, “Aloha,” and “Mahalo” two and a half months later.

I’m not going to tell you how much the trip cost. But it was the first vacation of its kind that we have taken, and just the two of us enjoying together the beauty of God’s great out-of-doors for more than a week. It was worth every penny sent to savings. Sometimes the value is more than monetary, you know? We know that if there is a next Hawaii trip, we know now which island(s) we prefer, how much more there is to discover there, and that there are more cost-effective ways to travel. Next time that might make more sense. But this time….awesome.

Lisa’s Top Ten Cruising Tips (And I Ain’t No Expert):

  1. Use a travel agent! They know or can find out the best packages, the best time to go, and best rooms to book. They handle all the tickets, flights, transportation, etc.
  2. Find the package that works best for you. Prepaid gratuities? Complimentary services? On-board credits? You have to ask sometimes, but you’ll probably find what you need.
  3. Take advantage of free meals, but don’t overdo it. You don’t have to eat the whole smorgasbord, but enjoy new foods, the amount your tummy needs, and tiny bits of sweet treats. Three meals a day are not required, and honestly, if you just want a salad and a chocolate truffle, you can do that. You’re on vacation!
  4. Make use of all the amenities that work for you. We were out on our balcony every morning with coffee, and every evening with the complementary non-alcoholic wine, or not. We did not use the pool one single time, although we tried to lounge there one day. That didn’t work for us. The beauty of the ship is that you can choose or choose not (as Yoda would say).
  5. Know your room assignment before you board, and before you book, if possible. I knew what I did and did not want in a room. Because I spoke up, we got the right room for us, and perfect for our budget.
  6. Get familiar with the ship before you board. Everything is online these days. I felt like I knew where I was going and what it would be like before we even packed. That made it easy to just let things happen.
  7. Enjoy the process. Embarking, going ashore and the mandatory safety drills just take time. If you’re prepared for a wait, or can make friends in the lines, you’ll be better off. Make sure you figure in all the time you need so you don’t get overwhelmed or feel so rushed you don’t enjoy the journey.
  8. Book the activities you want early! As ship reservations fill, so do dinner reservations, excursions, activities and spa reservations. You’ll have to pay for excursions when you book, sometimes six months early, but you may be able to cancel for ship credit, depending on the policy. Know that policy.
  9. Don’t overbook your days or nights. For us, the purpose of a vacation is to relax, and planning some down time helped us do just that. We had one full day with nothing structured, and it was just what we needed.
  10. Save before you book. Don’t charge a cruise. This is a special thing, one of those things you save up for.  If you think you’re going to go budget on a special trip, then it’s not going to be special. We planned a big “extra” budget, so we were ready. If you don’t have the money, you can’t afford it, and yes, it is that simple.

There you go. From a non-expert, the top ten cruising tips. I would recommend the cruise around the islands if you want to explore the different ones and don’t want to spend half your time waiting in airports or renting vehicles. If you want to pay upfront and have it all done for you, cruising is the way to go. But, if you want to set your own schedule, go where and when you want, and are very confident in unfamiliar places, you might want to visit one island, rent a vehicle, and plan your own budget trip.

I’m not so sure we’ll go on another cruise. Hopefully we’ll make it back to Maui and/or Kona. But we’ll do it differently, now that we’ve seen the islands and what kind of vacations are on each of them. All of the islands and all of the people are beautiful. There’s just a lot of getting around involved.

Are you planning a big vacation in 2018? Where are you going, and what are you doing?