Thursday, August 8, 2013

Practical steps to lessen the burden of student loan debt

Following is an op-ed piece by Ohio University-Chillicothe Dean Martin Tuck regarding common-sense steps that students and their parents can take to avoid accumulating excessive college debt. The op-ed was printed in the Chillicothe Gazette.

Higher education may be invaluable, but it is not priceless. That is the theme of countless conversations being held in light of the recent Project on Student Debt report and the uncertainty about the interest rate of federally-subsidized Stafford Loans.

The Project on Student Debt indicates that college debt has increased substantially over the past 20 years, in terms of both the number of college graduates who owe for their college costs after graduation and the total amount of debt accumulated. The interest rate of Stafford Loans, meanwhile has recently doubled from 3.4 to 6.8 percent, although lawmakers may have a new plan in the works.

While most experts agree that the price of a college education remains a sound investment considering the increased earning power of an individual with a college degree, there are a number of strategies and programs students and parents can participate in to help make a college education more affordable in these current times. Many of these strategies require a significant amount of planning to fully realize their benefits.      

•    College savings plans:  Parents can begin putting away money for college while children are young, which is a true investment in the future of the child. These savings plans can provide a cushion and help to lessen the financial blow when the students enroll in college and tuition is due.
•    Postsecondary Option (PSEOP)/Dual Enrollment Programs: Students who qualify for PSEOP academically can earn college credit at little or no expense while attending high school. Such a “head start” to college will reduce the amount of tuition students must pay to finish their degree once they do enter the college/university of their choice. PSEOP also allows students to get acclimated to college life and academic expectations before enrolling in a college or university.
•    Guaranteed Tuition Options: Many colleges and universities, such as Ohio University,   are exploring guaranteed tuition options. These programs guarantee the same tuition level for four years once the student enters the college/university. These programs allow students and parents to more accurately plan their household budget for college tuition costs and it also provides a strong incentive for students to complete their degree in four years.         
•    Begin your college career on a regional campus or at a community college: Students can save a significant amount of tuition costs by beginning their college careers at a regional campus or community college. The fact that many of these institutions are also commuter schools, allow students to save room and board costs as well. In addition to being less expensive, these institutions are also geared towards students who work part time while attending college and provide the opportunity for students to find their college footing without incurring the higher expenses of a residential campus.  While saving money students can become accustomed to college life, take general education requirements at less cost and be prepared for success if they choose to transfer or relocate to a larger campus.
•    Participate in work study, campus employment and co-op experiences while in college: These employment opportunities allow students to earn extra money often without leaving campus and in many cases gain valuable experience in their career field, giving them an edge on the competition when pursuing jobs after graduation.
•    Choose an academic major that, in addition to professional training, provides training in basic academic skills that are aligned with emerging career fields. Many employers do not necessarily look at a graduate’s academic major, but focus more on the basic academic skills students have learned in college, such as writing, math and critical thinking skills. These skills also allow graduates the flexibility to pursue emerging career fields they may not have considered or which did not exist at the time they entered college.

While many of these strategies require a great deal of thought and planning, potential college students and their parents should never lose sight of the fact that while not inexpensive, a college education is a quality investment for career-earning potential far into the future.  

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