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ON THE MONEY: Attending college without incurring debt

Greg Roberts

Greg Roberts

I was astounded recently when I discovered that the total of all outstanding student loan debt is now in excess of $1 trillion. To make matters worse, I see an advertisement on local television touting ways that a person can defer repayment or even default on the debt. There has to be a better way.

First things first: why must a high school graduate attend college in the first place? Sure, the statistics reveal that the average college graduate will earn, on average, about $20,000 more per year than the average high school graduate. But is your student average?

When I prepared to attend college in the ’60s, virtually all of my friends were heading to various colleges, and I gave no thought to not attending. Additionally, costs were dramatically less, even factoring in the cost of inflation.

However, a few of my classmates opted not to attend, choosing instead to become carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and welders. Most have done very well for themselves and are now financially healthy.

Actually, college expenses have risen at a faster rate than just about every other expense, including health care. The simple explanation is that the feds have decreed that every student should attend college, and as a result, monies are available from the feds in the form of tax credits to help cushion the expense. Colleges and universities, particularly private institutions, have simply raised their costs in response.

If your student will be attending college, by all means have him or her take a comprehensive aptitude test. I did, and I scored highest on “persuasive, “not science or math, even though I was a great student. After college and grad school, I began my career as a life insurance agent and then moved into sales management. Go figure.

If your student will be attending college, here are some tips to limit expenses and reduce the need for student debt.

• Have your student take AP courses in high school and earn college credits.

• Have your student take advantage of the proximity of USCA and take some college course while still in high school. Some students have earned an entire semester’s credits this way.

• It may seem counterintuitive, but the costs to attend a big-time university may be less than other choices, but only if your student can obtain financial aid without incurring debt. My old grad school, the University of Pennsylvania, has an endowment of $10 billion and doles out millions in scholarships to deserving students.

• My daughter attended a community college for her first two years and then transferred to an excellent four- year college to finish her education. That approach saved me thousands.

• If your child is an excellent student, have him or her apply for an honors program at the college of his/her choice. Being accepted usually means reduced or free tuition. The admission requirements are high, but the financial rewards can be huge.

• Have your student apply for all the scholarships that are available and, by all means, check with your high school’s guidance counselor. Here is a link to a good resource college scholarship opportunities or:

• Have your student work during the summer and also at school. The time to survey these opportunities is before your student leaves for college.

• If your child is so inclined, consider a military institution or ROTC. ROTC cadets committed to serving in the military after college are eligible for scholarships covering the costs for tuition, fees, and textbooks for four years, plus a monthly stipend for personal expenses.

• Have your student attend summer school and/or take online courses to hold down expenses.

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