College costs, and by extension, student debt, have gotten out of hand.

There are numerous ideas and opinions on how to best address the student loan crisis, ranging from federal debt forgiveness to universities shouldering part of the burden. Most of these strategies overlook the root of the issue.  The solution that strikes me as the most viable is to do our best to find ways to avoid or minimize the need for student loans in the first place.

I know. I know. Duh, right?

But, did you know that only 41% of full-time college students complete their degree within four years?”

One of the more common reasons for students spiraling into debt is that they spend more time in school than necessary. Although this is only one part of the student loan issue, I think it is a good place to start.

Financial Impact of Additional Years in College

The financial impact of a fifth or sixth year in college is substantial and almost always requires student loans.

Let’s assume $25,000 per year for tuition, plus room and board. Since most scholarships and aid do not extend beyond four years, a fifth or sixth-year student will probably have to take out even more loans.  If you also take into consideration that each additional year spent in school means a year not earning an income, the financial burden easily surpasses $50,000 per year.

Looking at my own situation, both of my daughters attend the same private university with a $60,000 per year sticker price. One additional year – remember, with no scholarships and financial aid – would cost over $100,000. For this reason, I keep track of how many credit hours they are taking and ensure that they remain aware of what is needed to achieve their degree.

Life is Unpredictable

While it seems as easy as signing up for 15 credit hours each semester to get to 120 in four years, life happens. Students drop classes, change their major, develop health issues, transfer to other schools, or enter a relationship that might influence their decisions about scheduling or their focus on academics.

Furthermore, many students may be unaware of the requirements needed to graduate. In my home state of Missouri, less than 50% of college students complete an average of 15 credits a semester. Since 12 credits are the minimum for college enrollment and financial aid, many students perceive that this number is the standard path to graduation. As a result, they dig themselves into a hole without even realizing it.

This is why it is crucial for you to talk to your child. Make sure he or she lays out a path to graduation with an advisor or mentor. If something does happen that causes them to fall behind, they should seriously consider taking an online course or a class or two over the summer to get caught up. It is usually not worth piling on another year’s worth of student debt just to avoid taking summer classes.

Preparing for the Unpredictable

Ultimately, life takes everyone along for the ride whether we like it or not. We cannot plan for everything. But we can take steps to give ourselves flexibility in the future, to mitigate unforeseen obstacles that might knock us off course.

For example, many people overlook the steps they can take in high school to prepare for the unpredictable. There are options out there: AP, Dual Enrollment, Dual Credit, and Early College classes can preemptively give college students more flexibility with their schedules by allowing them to earn credits while in high school. They may even help your student graduate early and save thousands of dollars.

The point is the numbers don’t lie. We need to pay closer attention if we want to help ensure our children graduate in four years with as little student debt as possible.



Todd Guffey


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