By Michael Schneider, President
The pandemic has changed the way many families think about affording a college education. Parents are nervous as 52 percent of college-bound students say they are reconsidering college due to a change in their family’s financial circumstances. But what if you could get that four-year degree without any debt?
Meghan Smith – a Lindsborg, Kan., sophomore double-majoring in business administration, with an emphasis in accounting and finance, and communication – says that after visiting four other mid-sized public and private colleges in Kansas, “I definitely felt like I was being forced to take out a loan to pay for college. It’s just assumed by college counselors that you will have to take out a loan and nobody tells you otherwise.”
But when she visited with McPherson College financial aid counselors, for the first time on her college tours she heard something different.
In addition to scholarships, McPherson College’s Student Debt Project offers a practical way to pay for college without taking out student loans. It’s a unique pay-as-you-go plan, combining financial literacy education, mentorship, and job support to help students pay down their student debt before they graduate. Most importantly, the Student Debt Project matches 25 cents for every dollar the student earns and puts toward his or her debt.
During the 2019-2020 academic year, students participating in the Student Debt Project were able to reduce their projected debt at graduation, on average, by $10,000. In just one academic year, that’s more than a 30 percent reduction.
And for some students like Meghan, the debt was reduced to zero. After three full semesters in the program, Meghan has now wiped out all her student-debt and expects to have her spring 2021 semester paid off early, too.
She, and the nearly 200 others in the program, are working outside jobs, maintaining above-average GPAs, participating in sports and extracurricular activities, and still staying on track to graduate with little – to no – debt. They receive monthly mentoring from more than 40 volunteer professionals who help them develop lifelong skills in personal finance as they offer advice on time management, budgeting, and goal-setting.
The mentorship – coupled with support from our Career Services office to find parttime jobs and paid internships – makes the program far more than a financial aid supplement. It also adds valuable career skills to the students’ resumes – even before they graduate.
Meghan, who landed a job last fall as a paid intern with southcentral Kansas accounting firm Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk & Loyd, tapped the college’s Career Service staff for advice on her job search. She is also able to receive college credit hours toward her degree.
When I asked Meghan what advice she would give other college-bound students, she didn’t hesitate: “Larger colleges don’t care if you get deeply in debt, but McPherson College does. They push you toward a debt-free goal and have people willing to help you succeed. Without student debt, you can buy a house or a car sooner after you graduate. You can even take a job that pays less, but lets you do something you like more. Those are good options to have as you start life after college.”
Jobs in the Post-Pandemic Workforce
One thing history shows us is that the value of a college degree is long-lasting. It broadens a person’s employment options and, on average, leaves them better able to withstand job market ebbs and flows. In any downturn, college grads are generally the last to lose their jobs. Equally as important, college grads are generally the first to be re-hired at the start of any recovery.
According to the Census Bureau, about 90 percent of the jobs that were added between 2017-2019 went to college graduates. And McPherson College has a proven track record of helping students find their match. Currently – even amidst the pandemic – 95 percent of our class of 2020 graduating seniors have either accepted job offers or been accepted to graduate school.
Too often we are asking the wrong question when it comes to a college education —”How much is this going to cost?” Rather than considering important outcomes and asking, “What is the return on my investment?” At McPherson College it is simple – we care what happens to our students after graduation – just ask Meghan Smith. A job and no debt is a great way to start your life after four years in college.