An antidote for student debt…

Kirk Schulz: Public universities committed to making college more affordable

By A Contributor

A March 2012 study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 84 percent of college graduates thought the expense of going to college was a good investment. As a university president, it is easy to feel reassured.

As the parent of one college student and another to follow, I also understand how 75 percent of adults in a Pew survey said college is too expensive for most Americans to afford. This goes against what those of us in higher education want, and it certainly contradicts the open-to-all approach of land-grant universities like Kansas State.

When students and their families finance an education, many of them end up in debt. The Pew Center found that it’s one out of five households. From the economic to the personal, it’s easy to identify the problems of our nation’s recent graduates and families saddled with debt. What is harder to identify are ways to mitigate debt accumulation.

I believe that public higher education — our “state schools” — can be part of the solution. They offer a high-quality educational experience at a more reasonable price, in spite of the fact that state funding continues to dwindle.

Among Kansas State University students who accrue debt, on average they accrue $22,308. To put that in perspective, that’s about the cost of a new Volkswagen Beetle. While this amount is nothing to scoff at, it’s also not the $60,000 or $80,000 or more that some graduates report in the media.

Helping students and their families pay for college isn’t a one-time conversation. It’s a process that spans a student’s entire collegiate experience.

I am proud of some of the ways Kansas State University helps students and families. When a prospective student first sets foot on campus for a tour, he or she can meet with staff at our student financial assistance center to learn about scholarships and additional opportunities to help pay for college.

Once students are here, they have another resource: nationally-recognized Powercat Finan-cial Counseling, a free service located in our student union. Financial counselors help students analyze loan options, prepare budgets, understand credit and credit scores and more.

Moreover, each year, Kansas State University awards $18.5 million in scholarships, awarded more than $200 million in student aid last year, and employs more than 7,000 students who earn a total of more than $15 million each year.

When those students graduate, they have a lot to look forward to. The most recent survey showed 92 percent of responding graduates were employed or furthering their education within six months of graduation.

I know my counterparts at other public universities agree that students and families benefit from the affordable, high-quality education state schools provide. Land-grant schools like Kansas State take special pride in our mission to make a college education accessible to as many eligible students as possible — something we’ve been doing for the past 150 years.

With student debt an ongoing issue, our land-grant mission will be even more significant in the next 150 years.

Kirk Schulz is president of Kansas State University.

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