The New York Times reports that which most college students -- and their parents -- already know too well: Student loan debt is out of control! [Read, A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College.]

More than $1 trillion in outstanding student debt, and that number is rising.

Of course, with tuition alone topping $50,000 at some colleges, and rising every year, despite an ailing and stagnant economy, and internal scholarship dollars as awarded by these same institutions shrinking, is it any surprise that students are graduating with loan debt that may well keep them in hock for the rest of their lives?

The specious argument that we, the people, cannot control burgeoning college costs is, well, for lack of a more appropriate word, baloney. Colleges charge what the market will bear, and if folks are willing to line up and pay colleges like Sarah Lawrence and NYU what amounts to extortion money for the privilege of going there, God bless 'em. [It is no surprise to us that public colleges that were once a sure thing for applicants are now becoming highly selective. They have the luxury of a growing applicant base, owing to a number of factors, among them, the outrageous cost of a private college education.]

We could write a dissertation on how to contain college costs reasonably and over the long run, thus alleviating, if not entirely eliminating, student debt. Of course, one of these over-priced universities would then have to bestow an honorary Doctorate (Doctor of Emails, perhaps -- Doctor of Letters being so arcane :-)] upon The College Whisperer, so let's stay on topic.

How do we lighten the debt load of college students?

Well, for starters, how about offering federal student loans at rates equivalent to those of Treasury Bills, currently hovering around 0.15%. Rather than haggle over how to pay for holding the current undergraduate Stafford Loan rate at 3.4% (it already stands at 6.8% for graduate students), Congress should put a premium on higher education by lowering student loan rates to what it pays the public on its bonds and notes. That would help.

Then again, avoiding the need for a loan in the first place -- which should be the goal of every student, right alongside actually getting in to the college of choice -- is the real answer here.

No loans? How is that possible?


Scholarships, grants, fellowships, yes, FREE money from outside the college. Community organizations. Not-for-Profit groups. Everyone from your local Kiwanis Club to the National FFA (Future Farmers of America) Organization collectively award millions (if not billions) of dollars in scholarships every academic year.

And yet, beyond signing up on Fastweb, if that, most students do very little, if anything, to actually pursue scholarship money for which they qualify. Even those who do seek out and apply for scholarships suddenly give up the hunt once accepted to college, and rarely pick up the trail again during the freshman, sophomore and junior years of college (as if, miraculously, there were no tuition bills to be paid over the course of four or more years of college).

Not knowing where to look. Neglecting the obvious. Lacking the resolve. Overlooking the "smaller" scholarship opportunities for $100 or $500 (failing to realize that, add 'em up, and pretty soon you're talking about real money).

As we've pointed out here on this blog, college scholarship opportunities abound. And this is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg! Scholarships are not only for high school seniors (juniors should get a jump start, and those in college need to keep on digging), nor are they the sole domain of those who demonstrate financial need.

"No one ever gets scholarship money!" Nonsense. You only hear that from those who never bother to look in the right places and apply, apply, apply, or from those who expect Ed McMahon (does anyone still remember Ed McMahon?) to show up at the front door with a check from Publishers Clearing House. [Which, in and of itself, would be a true feat these days, Ed having left this mortal sphere in 2009.]

You really CAN pay for college without either going broke or getting into debt over Wilt Chaimberlain's head. Through diligent savings over the years (think 529 Plan), a prudent and comprehensive scholarship search effort, a few hours of part-time work during the school year (think "Work-Study") and, where absolutely necessary, federally subsidized student loans (think Stafford), that overwhelming college debt can be managed quite nicely, if not eliminated altogether.

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