In the post-pandemic workforce, the best protection may be a college degree without debt
By Michael Schneider, President
The pandemic has changed the way many families think about affording a college education. Parents are nervous as 52% of college students say they are reconsidering college due to a change in their family’s financial situation. But what if you could get that four-year degree without any debt?
Meghan Smith – a Lindsborg, Kan., Second-year student with a double major in business administration, majoring in accounting, finance and communications – says that after visiting four other mid-sized public and private colleges in Kansas, “I really felt like I had to take out a loan to pay for your education. College counselors just assume you will need to take out a loan and no one is telling you otherwise.
But when she visited the financial aid counselors at McPherson College, for the first time on her college tours, she heard something different.
In addition to scholarships, McPherson College Student debt project offers a convenient way to pay for your education without taking out student loans. It is a unique pay-as-you-go plan, which combines financial education, mentoring, and employment supports to help students pay off student debt before they graduate. Most importantly, the Student Debt Project is 25 cents for every dollar the student earns and invests in debt.
During the 2019-2020 academic year, students participating in the Student Debt Project were able to reduce their projected debt at graduation, on average, by $ 10,000. In just one academic year, that’s over 30 percent off.
And for some students like Meghan, the debt has been reduced to zero. After three full semesters on the program, Meghan has now cleared all of her student debts and also expects her spring 2021 semester to be paid off sooner.
She and the nearly 200 others in the program work outdoors, maintain above-average GPAs, participate in sports and extracurricular activities, and stay on track to graduate with little to no debt. They receive monthly mentoring from over 40 professional volunteers who help them develop lifelong personal finance skills by offering advice on time management, budgeting and goal setting.
Mentoring – coupled with support from our Career Services office to find part-time jobs and paid internships – makes the program more than just supplemental financial assistance. It also adds valuable professional skills to student resumes even before graduation.
Meghan, who landed a job last fall as a paid intern with south-central Kansas accounting firm Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk & Loyd, asked staff in the college’s career department for advice on her search for ‘use. She is also able to receive university credits towards her degree.
When I asked Meghan what advice she would give other students at the university, she didn’t hesitate: “Big colleges don’t care if you go into deep debt, but McPherson College does. They push you towards a debt-free goal and have people ready to help you succeed. Without student debt, you can buy a house or a car sooner after you graduate. You can even take a job that pays less, but allows you to do something you love more. These are great options to have when starting life after college.
Jobs in the post-pandemic workforce
One thing history shows us is that the value of a college degree is enduring. It expands a person’s employment opportunities and, on average, leaves them better able to withstand fluctuations in the labor market. When a downturn occurs, university graduates are usually the last to lose their jobs. Equally important, college graduates are usually the first to be rehired at the start of any recovery.
According to the Census Bureau, about 90% of the jobs created between 2017 and 2019 went to college graduates. And McPherson College has a proven track record of helping students find their mate. Currently – even in the midst of the pandemic – 95% of our graduating class of 2020 have either accepted job offers or been accepted into graduate school.
Too often we ask the wrong question when it comes to college education: “How much is it going to cost?” Rather than looking at the big results and asking, “What’s the return on your investment?” At McPherson College, it’s simple – we care about what happens to our students after graduation – just ask Meghan Smith. A job and no debt is a great way to start your life after four years in college.