BY ANN CARROLL The heavens smiled on me when it came to paying for college. My parents had saved money, but still couldn’t afford to foot the bill – even in the 1990’s before tuition prices started increasing. I wanted a degree in journalism, a field which fourteen years ago typically offered only $16,000 for an 18 month contract. Paying back a student loan would have crippled me.
My saving grace: I won the lotto. Not really, but I belonged to one of the first graduating classes of High School students in Georgia to receive the Hope Scholarship. At the time, students with a “B” or better grade average out of high school got free in-state college tuition and even a stipend for textbooks. With the Hope Scholarship– plus a few private scholarships– I not only afforded college, but studied abroad and even lived in an apartment complex with a swimming pool and tennis court. I lived better in college than I did when I graduated.
My daughters will not benefit from the same situation. They’ll get good grades—or else suffer the wrath of their over-achieving parents (don’t worry, we’re already saving up money for therapy)—but times are different. Tuition prices are expected to increase by 40-percent in North Carolina over the next five years. Last year, after halfheartedly saving for our girls’ first few years of life, my husband and I started talking about exactly how much we should try to save for them for college. We met with a financial adviser and used the state’s college savings plan website to come up with a figure that would get us to our goal. While our savings won’t foot our daughters’ entire educational bill, we hope it will give them a solid start.
My family is lucky to have enough money left over to contribute to their 529’s each month. Thousands of North Carolina families aren’t as lucky. What can they do? A group of North Carolina college students from the North Carolina Student Power Union are taking the system into their own hands. This week, the Power Union will launch a multi-year effort to secure a debt-free system for North Carolina college students by the year 2020. It’s a lofty goal, but organizing director, Matt Hickson, believes it’s possible. Hickson points to Oregon’s new system that allows in-state students to attend one of the seven state schools tuition-free during their college career, eliminating the need for student loans. Instead, Oregon graduates will pay three-percent of their income for 24-years after graduating.
That plan makes sense to me. Oregon’s system seems like it will open doors for students whose parents make too little to help finance college but make too much to qualify them for need-based grants. It will also encourage students to follow their passions. I was dead-set on becoming a TV reporter from age 13. Decades later, I still work as a journalist.
Regardless of how you think we should solve the student debt crisis, we can all agree on one thing: we want to empower our children to succeed and contribute, and to never to feel like a burden on the world.