Do not take on unaffordable college loan debt

DON SHADE

South Williamsport

Since the Reagan years, each president’s State of the Union address has included a call for making a college education more affordable. This year was no different, as President Obama called on higher education to reduce its costs and for community colleges to be free.

The reality is that neither of those is going to happen.

Each year, college costs rise more than inflation, while student grant funding and private endowments fail to keep up. In recent years, Washington’s approach to making college more affordable has been to allow students to borrow more money and take longer to pay it off.

As a result, student debt has skyrocketed and now exceeds $1 trillion. Unfortunately, taking on unaffordable student and parent loan debt seems for many families to be their only recourse.

But there are better ways to approach this process.

During my 35 years in higher education, I gave hundreds of financial aid presentations to thousands of students and parents. To help them with the college cost dilemma, there were a number of key points I impressed upon them:

1. Cost does not equal quality. You do not have to spend more to get a quality education.

2. You are buying an education, not a school. Approach this like a consumer. Focus on the degree you want and research various options for obtaining it.

3. Debt is not inevitable it is a choice. But understand that the amount of debt you take on will essentially be determined the moment you make your school choice.

4. In taking on debt, parents must think long term. Focus on the cost of college for ALL years for ALL children, not just the first year for the first child.

5. Neither the government nor the schools you are considering can tell you what is affordable for you. Only YOU know your circumstances and can determine what your family can afford.

6. Make your school choice based on the best education and financial decision for the student and the family.

7. Visit www.pheaa.org for financial aid information and an interactive “smart borrowing” tool.

Paying for college remains one of the greatest financial challenges many families face. Sadly, college costs are not going to go down. Hopefully these tips will help year’s high school seniors and their parents kept their debt down and make their education affordable.