Cabinet Conversations: Community Colleges: One Answer to the Student Debt Crisis

April 26, 2022

Cabinet Conversations: Community Colleges: One Answer to the Student Debt Crisis

judy millsBy Judith Mills
Vice President of Financial Services

Despite some pandemic-related relief programs, many students still face mounting educational debt.

Student debt is nothing new, and currently, the national balance is roughly $1.7 trillion, an increase 150% in the last 15 years. It is the second highest consumer debt, in front of credit card and auto loans. Roughly two-thirds of all college graduates have some level of debt.

This high level of student debt results from a combination of factors, including slow repayment from borrowers, declining public support, increasing costs, and low enrollment; the last two of which inversely affect each other.

There are many thoughts about dealing with student debt. One is to waive student debt, at least partially. This would help, but is a short-term solution that does not solve the core problem and only adds to the expectation of similar actions in the future. Another idea is free community college. Yes, this would go a long way to minimize student debt; however, it does not appear this will happen nationally anytime soon.

Sadly, the burden of student debt hits community college students the hardest, as those students tend to be more financially vulnerable. It makes sense then, that when an unexpected event occurs, community college students are also the ones more likely to default on repayment.

Yet attending community college is one of the main answers to the student debt crisis. Why? Simply put, because community colleges are the most affordable. 

As stewards of public funding, community colleges work hard to find ways to maximize purchase power, and minimize the costs passed on to students. We reduce costs through partnerships, transfer agreements, and innovation. We continually expand scholarship opportunities for our students and connect them to resources. We wholeheartedly work with students to find what route is best for them, whether a degree, a certificate, or trade. Many paths offer work opportunities while going to school, which makes education more affordable.

Most importantly, we help our students understand their options. Our faculty and staff care deeply for our students and support them in all aspects of their lives. Along with providing academic instruction, our faculty and staff also direct students to support and services that helps students succeed – because by staying on track, students keep their educational costs down.

I recently talked with a student who graduated with a significant loan balance. When I asked about school loans, the student confirmed that they had classes on financial management and future loan repayment, but until life started after graduation, they did not fully comprehend the true impact of having to incorporate those payments into their monthly budget. Debt doesn’t hit home until it starts affecting bank accounts.

By giving our students the financial information they need and highlighting the affordability of community college, we’re doing what we can to minimize student debt, but more importantly, helping our students complete their educational journey.

Community colleges are a high-quality means of keeping educational costs down, as well as an excellent investment for both students and taxpayers.

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