June 11, 2012 12:00AM
Jordan Boyd is well qualified to help students both get the financial aid they need to earn a college degree and also to help them keep their level of debt down. Boyd, a student employee in Pittsburg State University’s Office of Financial Assistance, has navigated these financial waters himself and he is on track to graduate with no student loan debt.
“My parents do help me with my education and help me through school,” Boyd said, “But it has mainly been off of scholarships and grants.”
Last year, PSU awarded more than $2.8 million in scholarship aid. Pursuit of those begins with filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In addition to the scholarships awarded by the university, Boyd said, there are many scholarships given by groups and organizations in the students’ hometowns.
“There are many different groups and organizations around my hometown of Afton, Okla., and in the area communities that award scholarships,” said Boyd. “Groups like the Daughters of the Confederacy, the DAR, the American Legion, and the Masons award scholarships. I received some of those. I had two scholarships through my alumni association when I graduated high school. It was good for my first two years.”
Boyd said he understands that many students’ families don’t have the resources to pay the full bill for college or at least aren’t able to help as much as they would like.
“In 2008, my dad was laid off for a couple of months, so it was right there during the summer-fall of my senior year when I was planning for college,” Boyd said.
That experience caused Boyd to alter his plans, opting for community college instead of a university for his first two years of school to save money.
Boyd said that even with scholarships, grants and part-time work, some students will need student loans to complete their degrees, but he advises against taking the maximum loan, if at all possible.
“Before you sign that award letter, sit down and average your expenses for the year,” Boyd said. “Then take only what you think you will need.”
Julie Blanken, associate director of PSU’s Office of Financial Assistance, said that’s good advice.
“Our office encourages students to borrow only what they need to finance their education,” Blanken said. “Students should be aware that this is a loan that they will have to pay back, with interest.”
Blanken said she also encourages students to get a part-time job and she points to data that suggests students who work do better academically.
“Statistics have shown that students who work part time have better grades and retention rates,” Blanken said.
Rising student debt and the national trend of states to shift more of the cost of education from taxpayers to students and their families are a concern, Blanken said, but it shouldn’t cause students to forego earning a degree.
“The long-term benefits of earning a college degree are significant,” Blanken said. “And there are lots of strategies students and their families can use to eliminate or minimize student loan debt.”