I hit a nerve with many of you in the last issue of Biola Magazine when I mentioned the topic of debt and the cost of tuition. Thank you for the many great notes and positive, supportive comments about our quest to reduce the debt of our students and alumni. I thought I would share one of the many letters I received, along with my response.
Dear Rick, your alumni column about school debt was spot on with our concerns, and holding us back with our kids’ education. Our son graduated from the cinema department with a monster debt, and although working his way up in his field, he is only making $12 hourly, with over $600 monthly in debt payments. We are considering the cost, yet believe what he learned in his experience at Biola was worth it.
However, our second son finished his freshman year at [another Christian college]. His opinion was that the spiritual emphasis there was empty compared to the exposure at Biola, and he looked into switching colleges to Biola for his sophomore year. Although his loan offer was $18,000 for next year, that leaves $14,000 exposure for tuition plus $9,000 room and board. It is too much financial weight on a kid who wants to go into the business side of nonprofit work, working with the Spanish-speaking culture. We as a family are sold on your school, and would do almost anything to get our son there, but are suggesting he look for other alternatives at this point.
Here is my response to this family and to those of you with similar concerns and considerations:
When parents ask about sending their children to Biola, I always say that having sent my two kids through Biola, I wouldn’t have wanted them anywhere else. It is, however, tragic when a graduate leaves Biola with so much debt they are unable to work in the career for which they prepared. So, how much should we sacrifice for our kids to attend? Tough question! President Corey’s feelings are that students should leave with no more debt than buying a small car — something that should be able to be paid back within a four-to-five- year period. That is our goal as we look to identify ways to reduce student debt.
To help with this, here are some of the options students can consider.
1. Take the maximum allowable units each semester and work to graduate early. Taking online classes and summer classes at Biola (which cost less per unit) can help. Being strategic and working with an academic counselor is significant.
2. Make sure you have met with the financial aid office and are aware of every avenue for financial assistance. Check with academic departments on scholarship assistance. Check the list of endowed scholarships, as many go unclaimed each semester. Check out church-matching scholarships, leadership scholarships, debt forgiveness programs for education, military, business or nonprofit service, and other forms of external funding.
3. Consider a part-time job while at Biola. (Students, not parents!) Finding a paid internship or job can help with the cost of education. If you can find a position in the area of your future career, you can gain experience and make yourself more hirable after graduation.
4. Shop around for the best loans. Many academic loans are available in the 4 percent range. I advise students to check with their lending institution, and many government subsidized academic loans are under 4 percent now.
5. I always tell graduates with multiple high-interest-rate loans to consider loan consolidation. Dropping those high-interest-rate loans into one average-interest-rate loan can save hundreds of dollars each month, and one loan is much easier to manage than multiple loans. If interest rates on your loans are pretty good, consider the debt snowball effect: Make minimum payments on all loans but throw any extra you can pay into highest-interest-rate loans or small loans that are easily paid off first.
For those of you who feel you could have written this letter to Biola, we want you to know that we hear and understand your concerns, and are seeking to make a Biola education available to every student who desires one. And for those of you who can help others struggling with college debt, we would love for you to pay it forward on the degree that you received or the ministry impact that you have experienced from a Biola graduate. If you have thoughts you would like to share, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
For together we are all alumni for life!