There’s no need for students to take on so much debt

I have worked in education for many years, including higher education. If I read one more article about a student assuming $100,000 in debt on his or her way to a career in education, I am going to burst.

First of all, no student — and especially not one who won’t be able to afford it — should be taking on that kind of debt load. Parents who allow this to happen are either grossly misinformed or not paying attention.

Do a cost-benefit analysis. If you want to become a teacher, you cannot allow your debt to go over a certain limit. Teachers are grossly underpaid. You can make more as a school custodian, a barista or waiting tables than as a special education teacher. It is a national disgrace, but also a fact.

If you’re seeking degree in computer science, you can probably take on more debt. This is not complex, it is ECON 101. Information on typical starting pay for any career or field of study can be found on O*NET, a major source of occupational information.

How can you mitigate staggering higher education costs? Take advantage of post secondary options.

These are college classes high school students can take — for free. It is not unusual now to see a high school student begin college with an entire year (30 credits) already completed. The University of Minnesota costs $500 a credit, so that would be a $15,000 tuition savings.

What about Advanced Placement classes? For every AP test passed, a student saves between $1,500 and $2,000 in tuition. Many high schools cover all or part of the cost of these exams and there are grants available.

Again, many students pass four or more AP tests — I had one student who passed nine tests.

Don’t have these options in a small district or didn’t know about them? Go to community college for the first two years — or at least the first year. A four-credit class at the U costs $2,000; at a community college it’s around $700. Which price would you rather pay for your freshman writing class?

Room and board in dorms or campus/off-campus apartments is extremely expensive. Choose an option that allows living at home or with relatives for a year or two.

We simply must get away from rigid expectations about what “the college experience” is. No longer can we say it must include moving away from home to an out-of-state college or even to a dorm hours from home.

If this is in your budget — awesome. If it is not, there are other ways.

The amount of scholarship and grant money available to lower income students is mind boggling. But if you are middle of the road, you will likely not get this access, so making smarter decisions is key. Begin setting up expectations on what your family can do about college as early as junior high.

And last, remember that a four-year degree is not for everyone. Listen to your student when they say they are interested in a trade or show an aptitude for a skilled craft. Do research to plan accordingly.

Higher education is attainable for everyone.

Claire Hilgeman, of Minneapolis, is an academic adviser.

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