As my high school senior son works on his college applications, we’re discovering that preparing for college takes about as much studying as a college class. And carefully evaluating the options is becoming even more important because the value of the educational product is under new scrutiny.
The increased earning power and additional benefits of a college education have historically been used not only to justify the sizeable financial investment needed for a college education, but also increasingly larger educational loans and the resulting lengthy post-college repayment obligations.
We read a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education which asks How Much Student-Loan Debt is Too Much? The article reports that the total amount of student debt in the U.S. is approaching $1 trillion and exceeds the total for credit card debt. CNN reports that the average debt for 2010 graduates was $24,000. In the case of some high paying occupations, such as medicine and law, a student’s college debt can reach six figures.
Tuition costs continue to rise. At the same time the economic outlook is dismal. So one of our top concerns is figuring out how our son can get through college without accumulating a huge load of debt that will restrict his financial options for years, or even decades. The question is even more critical when you consider that he may be called by God to follow a career at a non-profit or ministry, where paychecks are small and workers sometimes need to raise their own support.
Scholarships are one of the best options for avoiding college debt. College-bound students are encouraged to apply broadly for scholarships. But there are mines in the scholarship fields; warnings abound about scholarship scammers. Gordon Wadsworth, in an article on the Crown Financial Ministries website, has tips on how to avoid scammers, as well as cautions about certain types of college loans.
Advice guru Dave Ramsey is all about avoiding debt, so he rejects loans altogether. In addition to scholarships, he recommends working through college, checking into programs offered by the military, and starting at a less-expensive two-year public college.
We’ve been told that getting to know the financial aid officer is a good idea, no matter what school we’re looking at. Schools can offer financial assistance in many ways. We may find that private schools are sometimes a more economical choice than public schools, because of the financial aids that are available. Selecting the right school isn’t all about financial aids but it can be a major factor.
And today the ivy-covered walls are not the only place to get a college education. Less expensive and more flexible forms of higher education are actively used by mid-career professionals, such as online classes and college extensions located in office parks. We’re not considering these options yet, but more and more younger students may find themselves going this route and foregoing the on-campus experience in order to keep their college education affordable.
College is still a place where career-building skills are taught and life-changing decisions are made. College is also still a place where God calls men and women to serve Him wholeheartedly. InterVarsity still believes that the college campus is one of the greatest mission fields because students go to college not only to prepare for a career but to learn how to change the world.