Considering College

Seventy percent of college students graduated with debt last year—on average $30,000. Some will repay that debt with Social Security checks voluntarily or through garnishment. Of Americans over 60, 2.8 million have student loans, and 73% of those are cosigners paying for children or grandchildren. Something is broken. Pell Grants, formerly the solution for qualifying families, covered 79% of tuition and fees in 1975 but only 29% by 2017—a downhill slide caused by escalating costs, easy government loans and no public demand for matching value increases. Some studies suggest borrowing yields an increase in credits earned and academic performance. I don’t care what those studies show. Borrowing more is bad; borrowing less is good. Borrowing nothing is best. Community colleges revolutionized higher education. It started with Joliet Junior College in 1901, and JJC proudly retains its junior college name and mission. Traditionally, these institutions were free or nearly so. Many have wandered off the path. In Texas, the average debt for graduates was $9,500 for public and $13,000 for private community colleges. Laredo College has the lowest debt level at $2,332. The most indebted graduates owe $33,828 from the private for-profit American Intercontinental University in Houston. If that doesn’t startle you, you are not paying attention. The value equation does not work. I feel a moral obligation to recognize pragmatismwith pragmatism. To those multiplied thousands of students I said, “Do not borrowmoney to attendWest Texas A&MUniversity for the first two years." These debt levels are for graduates. More disconcerting are the nearly 3.9 million students who drop out of college or community college with no degree, but over $7,000 debt on average. That stinks. I have visited 132 high schools (public, charter, private and for profit) in Texas’ top 46 counties talking with thousands of students, teachers and leaders. The schools range in size from twelve to thousands, and many have a deep culture of pragmatism learned from their families and communities. This is particularly so in smaller community-based schools in places like Texline, Booker, Klondike, Guthrie and all points in between. Many students bring that native pragmatism with them to WT, and it strengthens the University. I feel a moral obligation to recognize pragmatism with pragmatism. To those multiplied thousands of students I said, “Do not borrow money to attend West Texas A&M University for the first two years. If you must borrow, go to a community college. Amarillo College, Frank Phillips College, Clarendon College, South Plains College and Western Texas College are all good places to start. Don’t borrow a red cent for community college either. Pay as you go.”


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