Debt Concerns Change Way Students Earn Degrees

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by MAGEN KRITSCH, Daily Journal

WHITELAND Ind. — A Whiteland senior is hoping to graduate from college without any student loan debt.

Mandi Basham said she doesn’t expect her parents to be able to help her pay for a four-year degree, and her grade-point average isn’t high enough to qualify her for scholarships that would pay her full tuition costs.

So, she is taking dual-credit courses at Whiteland Community High School and plans to save money by earning some of her credits at a community college during her summer breaks from Indiana University.

Finding a way to pay for college without crushing student debt is changing the way students think about how they earn their degrees, school guidance counselors told the Daily Journal ( http://bit.ly/VKD84P).

Students see older peers and family members with college debt and are aware what paying for college means.

Many high school students plan to study at a community college first before finishing on campus, are staying close to home to save on the costs of a dorm room or apartment and are giving up their expensive dream schools.

“I am seeing more forethought and planning ahead of time,” said Shannon Fritz, guidance director at Whiteland. “(Students) understand the debt-to-income ratio more.”

Basham said she didn’t even think about going to college a year ago.

No one in her family had earned a degree. But, after having friends in college, she decided she wanted to graduate from a four-year school.

The price tags of colleges she looked at made her rethink what her post-high school plans would be.

“It kind of came crashing down on me,” she said. “I didn’t really think about the financial aspect at first.”

Her first-choice school to earn a pharmacy degree was Butler University. After comparing costs of Butler University versus IU, she decided to go the less expensive route at a state school, she said.

In the past three or four years, students have started to redefine what a traditional college path looks like, Fritz said.

A decade ago, most students thought of college as going to a four-year university and living on campus, she said.

More and more students now are open to attending a community college for general education courses and transferring those credits to a four-year degree at another school, Fritz said.

Students used to view community college as being only for students who weren’t as strong academically. That stigma is disappearing as more academically strong students attend community college to save money, she said.

“I’m starting to see the public opinion change,” Fritz said. “Students are becoming more cognizant of the cost and debt.”

Basham said she knows that it will cost thousands of dollars to get her degree, but she said it will be worth it.

“The entire reason I am going to college is to get a career,” she said.

Some of her high school friends who work and earn money now would rather continue working than take on student loans, she said.

“(They say) why would I spend money on a degree when I am earning money now?” she said.

Grace Schafstall, a junior at Franklin Community High School, said she thinks she might not need a formal education to get a career in social media. Finances aren’t necessarily the issue, but she doesn’t want to spend time and money on something that isn’t needed, she said.

“I feel like I have already been in education so long,” Schafstall said. “I might be happier without going into four years of unnecessary schooling.”

But guidance counselors say students who want to attend college don’t have to give up that dream because of cost.

Some expect they will have some debt but are taking steps now to manage it, said Kristin Schuetz, guidance counselor at Franklin Community High School.

“They want to leave college with a manageable amount of debt,” she said. “If they want to go to college, it is still their plan.”

Often, students won’t say that they aren’t going to college because of money, Fritz said. But she has had discussions with students about graduating from high school early to spend six months working to save toward college or delaying college to work, she said.

But when students delay going to college, they struggle more to finish, Fritz said.

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