#student debt continues to cause financial stress for many across Arizona, although according to the Arizona Board of Regents, the state has some of the lowest student debt in the nation.

In a public poll, 86 percent of participants said that student debt or college tuition costs are a significant stress in their lives, while 14 percent disagreed. One member of the 14 percent is #university student Jane Silverstein. She said, “I'm extremely grateful that I was able to put myself in a situation where paying for college isn't stressful for me. I thought going to school… was going to cost me a fortune, but I did research on not just the big name schools when choosing.

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All the schools I applied for were city schools where the tuition is significantly low.”

Silverstein also found ways to keep the high costs of university life down. She said, “I was able to get enough financial aid from the government and state, as well as scholarships, to pay for my tuition, books, and travel expenses. I also opted to live with family and commute to school instead of dorming. Unfortunately, I'm one of the lucky ones and lots of my friends have to deal with stress because of school finances… It's really hard to imagine going to a private university in the city and having to pay an unreasonably high tuition.”

For the rest of the 86 percent, however, college costs remain a looming worry. However, state universities have options for those who cannot afford to pay for college upfront, which is the case for most students.

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How the costs can be paid

According to Hermina Rincon, media relations officer of Arizona State University, 80 percent of ASU students receive some form of financial assistance every year. The average net tuition cost for an in-state student is $1,800 after gift awards, scholarships and aid, and ASU’s tuition is among the lowest of its peers – 20 percent lower than the national median. The average debt for undergraduate students was approximately $13,814 at time of graduation.”

“It’s important to note that the rate of return for a degree continues to substantially exceed the rate of investment for college,” Rincon said. “The educational investment made by a student boosts their social mobility. In 2016, ASU was ranked in the top 10 in the nation for graduate employability, and 88 percent of undergraduates who were looking for work were employed or received an offer 90 days after graduation. ASU is providing the high-quality education that ensures students are employable and a valuable asset to the workforce – a return on their educational investment.”

Recently, a 1.5 percent tuition increase has been approved at ASU for the coming years.

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The increase sparked some controversy on campus, but the level of increase remains within the university’s 10-year promise to keep any tuition increases at a maximum of 3 percent. ASU President Michael Crow said, “Our tuition philosophy is based on inclusion versus exclusion and a commitment to maintaining affordable access to the most innovative university in the country. We make every effort to ensure that no student who is academically qualified is unable to attend ASU due to financial circumstances and that our student body is reflective of the socioeconomic demographics of the state.”

Reasons for the cost

“The tuition setting process is an open and collective effort. The university, in partnership with the ASU Undergraduate Student Government, holds student town halls where students can ask questions and share comments with President Michael Crow,” Rincon said. “The tuition adjustments are made in a way that minimizes the impact on the student experience, allowing higher education to be affordable, reasonable and provide the necessary resources to ensure a quality undergraduate experience.”

“Our out-of-state and international rates remain competitive at the average of our peers. As always, we will continue to work at all levels of the university to build and maintain an operating environment that allows us to maintain these tuition levels through diversification and prudent stewardship of all revenue sources,” said Crow.

The University of Arizona also contributes to the low debt trait of Arizona. The UA Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid director Rebekah H. Salcedo said, “For the third consecutive year, the UA is among 200 colleges and universities featured in the 2017 edition of ‘Colleges That Pay You Back: The 200 Schools That Give You the Best Bang for Your Tuition Buck.’ Scholarships, grants and loans are available to students as well as payment plans.”

Financial tips

Jared Hadlock is a Mesa resident and Certified College Funding Specialist, and his job is to “help people attend the college they choose for the lowest net cost possible.”

“But more than that I think a college education will help someone to achieve their dreams,” Hadlock said, “So I take that responsibility seriously and know there are a lot of factors that go into the college planning process. However, it is a big decision that can have a significant impact of your financial life for the future. Students will spend approximately four years learning a new trade, but then spend typically a minimum of 10 years to finance that decision.”

“For a lot of students, this may be the first time they are on their own and making major decisions. They may or may not have had a lot of financial education on the impact of these decisions. The #Decision Making Process for today’s needs or wants may have much bigger impact that some students may realize. It is often hard to see the impacts of today’s decisions on tomorrow’s dollars,” Hadlock said.

As a financial advisor, he has some advice for university students who are looking to avoid or reduce their debt after attending school. “My biggest suggestion would simply be to determine the difference between needs and wants,” he said. “Student loans are relatively easy to obtain and that is a good thing but they need to be treated responsibly. Make the decision to establish a budget, determining what is a need or want, and learn to stick to that budget. Determine how you will finance any shortfall and try to take on as few debt obligations as possible.”

Another bit of advice that Hadlock has is to realize that every decision has a consequence. “Every decision made in college will have an impact on your financial life. When talking about debt or student loans in any capacity, I think it is really important to understand your debt obligations and take them on your eyes wide open. Go to school and obtain your education with a solid idea of what the endgame will be when you are degree complete. A good rule of thumb is to not take on more student loan debt than what your first year salary will be in your chosen career,” he said.

Speaking of careers, Hadlock suggests that you take the time to explore all opinions possible before deciding on a path. “Understand that all schools have a vested interest in you attending their school. Also your school or degree is simply a vehicle to get you to where you ultimately want to go with respect to your career. So seek someone you feel that you feel will give you an unbiased opinion on your career choice,” he said.

“Also, know exactly how much a degree will cost in that chosen field and determine if you will be able to meet the debt obligations. Everyone is entitled to become what they want to become and choose their own career path. But I think that if you are planning to go into a field that will not have a high salary, your plan may need to be altered just with regard to how you accomplish that goal. The goal should always be to leave college while taking on the lowest amount of debt obligations as possible. This will help set you up for an easier path after you leave college,” Hadlock said.

“Do the necessary homework beforehand to determine your individual path. Do not simply attend school with the false notion that you will worry about the payments at a later date. Taking the time to lay out that decision making process will pay huge dividends for all involved,” Hadlock said.

So, if you do decide to take the university route and stay in school, make sure you also mind your money.