According to the U.S. Federal Reserve system, as of December 2020, Americans owe $1.68 trillion in student loan debt. That is how profound the student debt problem in the U.S. has become. To put it in even more perspective, that is about $924 billion more than the total credit card debt in the U.S. of $756 billion.
The arguments have traditionally been that a college education is essential – that it is invaluable. Unfortunately, people are graduating college with a debt burden that is just too big to shoulder and leaves them financially crippled. So what are the solutions students can consider to get the educations they need without taking on so much debt to receive it?
The Growth of Student Loan Debt
It is important to note how much student debt has grown over the last decade. EducationData.org reported that student loan balances average at $37,584 and overall, total student loan debt has nearly doubled in the past decade from $860 billion to $1.68 trillion.
The rapid growth of college debt leaves you as a student or parent with few choices if you believe that college education is necessary. You can bite the bullet and take on the crippling debt, which is only set to grow even more over the next ten years. You can find ways to make college more affordable for you. Alternatively, you can go the slow and steady route to earning a degree by paying for your education as you go.
Improving College Affordability
Affordability is critical. It is important to note that some colleges cost more than others. The difference between private and state colleges are staggering for tuition alone. Even among state colleges, you can reduce costs, and your debt load, by choosing wisely and comparing costs ahead of time.
There are other steps you can take, though, to reduce your total debt burden for college, including considering attending two years of community college before transferring to a university.
College Tuition Compare shows that in the state of Indiana, Ivy Tech, which is a community college in Indiana, has in-state tuition of just over $4,500 per year.
That compares to $10,947 for Indiana University (Bloomington) and $9,701 for Purdue University (Main Campus), which are the two largest state colleges, and $55,553 for tuition at the University of Notre Dame, which is a private college.
You can save thousands, if not tens of thousands over the course of your education by starting out at a community college for two years before transferring to a university to continue your education. You must work with both institutions from the start, though, to make sure your courses and credit hours are transferable to the university you intend to attend next.
Tips on Avoiding Student Loan Debt
These are a few additional steps you can take to reduce your need to take on student loan debt when attending college.
- Take AP classes in high school and test out of the college courses.
- Taking college courses while enrolled in high school can get you a head start financially.
- Choose one of the FREE colleges in the U.S. (there are a few that offer free tuition for any accepted student within a certain income bracket as well as a few who provide free tuition to students who work on campus while attending college).
- Get tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement from your employer.
- Consider the GI Bill. The government will pay for you to attend college in return for your military service.
- Attend college close to home and skip the added costs of campus (or off-campus) housing and meals.
It may feel like a sacrifice at the moment, but sparing yourself the burden of crippling debt while continuing to earn your degree may be one of the best gifts you give your adult self – especially when so many of your friends, classmates, and coworkers are overwhelmed by the college debts they are shouldering.