Let me paint a picture for you.
Joe Blow goes to college and realizes that life isn’t free anymore. He’s temporarily overwhelmed with worry when he sees the thousands of dollars in housing and dining expenses, and textbook fees he needs to pay this semester alone. Joe certainly doesn’t have the money, and unfortunately his parents don’t either.
But then, eureka! Joe hears it’s easy to get a loan for college, and the worry passes.
Short term, any student can apply for loans like the Federal Stafford Loans, which loan money for education costs to lower-income students based on need. Parents also can take out a loans on the student’s behalf through the Federal PLUS and Federal Graduate PLUS loans if they qualify.
Joe decides to apply for a variable interest rate loan from a private company because the loan cap, or the maximum amount of money given, is higher, and Joe gets a low interest rate in the beginning.
For a qualified (low-income) applicant, these loans can cover everything school related, such as textbooks, housing and dining costs.
This was the solution for 61 percent of all undergraduate CSU students last year.
And it’s true: taking out a loan is a viable option for students in need. But I stress: taking out a loan is like inserting a cancerous virus into yourself.
So, Joe keeps charging his get-out-of-college free card. It’s easy for Joe to forget about his invisible tab, but the deferred bills keep stacking up.
Joe’s story does not end well. Yes, he has a college degree. But, he has also emerged into the “real” world with a debt he may not pay off until his fifties. According to recent data published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, as of 2012, 4.7 million Americans in their fifties are paying off student loans of a massive $112 billion dollars nationwide.
Marine Corps Mary decides to take a different route. She knows she wants to go to college, but sees the tuition rate and balks. Mary almost decides to not get a degree at all, when she learns about the GI bill.
Based on your eligibility percentage and academic status (full time, part time, etc.) You can receive up to $1,321 per month for up to 8 semesters (four years) of college.
The GI bill suits Mary well, because she is open to enlisting in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Mary tells her friend Smart Susie, but while Susie is in need of financial aid, she is not planning to serve her country through the armed services.
After completing her FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), Smart Susie is eligible for financial aid. Susie uses her smarts to research financial aid solutions that she doesn’t need to pay back — such as grants, scholarships and work study.
First, Susie submits her FAFSA to the Federal Pell Grant association.
Susie discovers that in 2012-13, students at CSU brought in scholarships worth $7.02 million and is surprised to find many businesses in Fort Collins offer scholarships. So, Susie smartly applies for scholarships through the University and local businesses.
Still looking to cover costs, Susie finds the option of a work study. Submitting an application, Susie is placed in a job catered to her class schedule and gets relevant experience.
Susie is very successful in finding financial aid that doesn’t need to be paid back. Earning scholarships from her department of study and a local business, as well as using her work-study and her awarded money from the Federal Pell Grant to cut down her bill even further, Susie pays about 3/4 of her school expenses.
Finally, Susie does have to take out student loans, but they are minimal.
My recommendation is to take out loans as a last resort after you research and apply for as many grants and scholarships as you can. College is a business, but so are the loan companies. From CSU’s student Fact Book, the amount of financial aid given from scholarships (10 percent), work (12 percent), and even grants (17 percent) are all eclipsed by loans (61 percent).
The Federal Reserve Bank data reveals the trend of borrowing instead of receiving financial aid is the only kind of consumer debt that has grown since the consumer debt peak in 2008. Debt balances of student loans have surpassed both auto loans and credit cards. Outside of mortgages, this statistic makes student loan debt the largest form of consumer debt.
Let’s change the statistics by raising scholarship and grant recipients and lowering the loans being brought into CSU.
If taking out a loan is a necessity, first go through the Federal Loan options, which will only lend you the amount needed based on your FAFSA.
Don’t let them make you into Joe Blow, still paying off debt in his fifties. Be resourceful like Marine Corps Mary and smart like Susie, and know loans are not free, even though the absence of bills is misleading during college.
Collegian columnist Sierra Cymes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sierra_cymes.