By JoElyn Krohn, MLC Financial Literacy Coordinator
“What can we do to protect our child from the burden of student loans?”
Maybe this is a question that’s been haunting you as the second semester picks up some steam and next year’s application for financial aid is looming.
Student loans are a necessity for many students in order to help shoulder the increasing costs of higher education. Student Loan Hero* (https://studentloanhero.com/student-loan-debt-statistics/) reveals alarming statistics regarding student loans and the burden on individual students. The average debt for 2016 graduates was $37,172. Although the average loan debt at MLC was significantly less, at $22,822, it is still a financial burden students will carry for many years. What can be done to help minimize this burden?
First, Why Does College Cost So Much?
Higher education costs are increasing at a rapid rate. This is partly due to reduced funding (cuts to both federal and state budgets for education and loss of value on endowments during the economic downturn), but predominantly it is simply more expensive to operate a college. The cost of health care benefits for employees is increasing. Building improvement costs for the campus are ongoing demands. Campus amenities—comfortable housing, athletic facilities, state-of-the-art technology—must be maintained to meet students’ expectations and remain competitive in the college search. All these factors combined impact the cost of tuition at each institution.
While MLC strives to provide excellent education in an inviting environment with ample amenities, we also make a concerted effort to keep costs as low as possible for our families. The tuition for 2017-2018 increased 5%, but the funding for financial aid likewise increased 5%.
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Knowing the cost of education, what are some strategies for keeping loan amounts down? Applying for financial aid, applying for scholarships, and earning money for college are important strategies.
What Are Some Strategies for Keeping Loans Small?
- APPLY FOR FINANCIAL AID
Students and families are primarily responsible for covering the cost of attending college, but financial aid can assist them. Students applying for aid must complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and the MLC Financial Aid Application by April 15.
The information from the FAFSA determines each student’s eligibility for financial aid. (Over 95% of families received some form of financial aid from MLC this year!) The government has made a change to the FAFSA for 2017-2018 and will now be looking at the tax information from two years previous. So families will need to report 2015 income for their 2017-2018 income.
Since not all circumstances can be explained on the FAFSA, we encourage you to communicate special circumstances impacting your family’s financial situation to the financial aid office so we can offer special consideration.
- SEARCH FOR SCHOLARSHIPS & GRANTS
Scholarships and grants are a great way for students to reduce the cost of education. MLC has several merit-based, renewable scholarships.
In addition to merit-based scholarships, we also offer donor-funded scholarships and grants. Donor-sponsored scholarships (based on merit) might require a certain GPA, a project, or a paper. Donor-sponsored grants (based on financial need) might require students to write an essay expressing their financial need and their desire to serve in the ministry.
Students should also pursue scholarships in their communities, through their employers, through their parents’ employers, and by using one of the many scholarship searches.
Millions of dollars are given in scholarships each year. The process of searching for and applying to the many scholarships is time-consuming, but it can pay off big time!
For more scholarship information, please review the information on our scholarship page:
- SEEK EMPLOYMENT
Not every student can handle a job in addition to school work and acclimating to a new college campus, but sometimes it’s essential for covering out-of-pocket costs.
Many on-campus jobs are available in the cafeteria, library, music department, athletic department, and various offices. Students also work as tutors, teaching assistants, and resident assistants. We make a concerted effort to expand student jobs whenever possible.
Many off-campus jobs are available as well. New Ulm area residents often contact MLC, requesting student help. Some jobs are flexible, like tutoring a grade school student, and some are more structured, like working a shift at a company in town. Both on- and off-campus job opportunities can be reviewed on the Student Employment website: https://mlc-wels.edu/student-employment/
Even if students are not working during the academic year, the summer is an excellent time to save up money for school. It’s very possible for students to earn around $3,000, which covers the majority of the room and board charges. Students who contribute to their college education often take greater pride in their accomplishment. It also helps prepare them for the reality of balancing all the bills and responsibilities after college.
What Is MLC Doing to Help?
MLC leaders have prayerfully considered how they can better serve the needs of students in the area of finance. August 2015 marked the first year of the campus financial literacy program facilitated by a full-time financial literacy coordinator. Through this program, called MLC Direction, I strive to help students grow in their understanding of financial topics and make wise financial decisions now, alleviating financial pressure in the future.
- First-year students meet one on one with me. We review how much they’ve borrowed for the current year, project what they’ll need for future years, estimate what their repayment plan might look like, and discuss strategies for reducing loan amounts.
- Graduating students also meet one on one with me. We review their total loan debt, estimate their future payments, and create a personalized budget based on projected income and expenses.
- All students complete a few online activities through CashCourse – a non-profit organization that provides personal finance tools and learning modules to students. cashcourse.org
- All students are also invited to group presentations throughout the year, where guest speakers present on various financial topics, including the basics of investing, understanding credit, and avoiding identity theft. First year students are required to attend a group session on basic money management in the fall semester.
We are hopeful that the resources, meetings, online activities, and group presentations will help students develop better financial understanding and habits. Through hard work and support from family and the college, students can minimize their debt and maximize their income. After all, if they live like a college student NOW—scrimping and saving—they won’t have to in the FUTURE!