College Affordability: Strategies for Today and Tomorrow

For about 6.5 hours per day, five days per week and 180 days per year, students are in school – spending more than 15,000 hours working on earning a valuable education, learning life-long skills and preparing for a career or, often, even more school.

Pursuing higher education by way of a four- (if you’re lucky) year degree is costly, and more often than not, results in staggering levels of student debt. In fact, in the U.S., total student debt is the highest it’s ever been, now topping $1.5 trillion, and affects nearly 45 million Americans. Debt from student loans is the second-highest source of consumer debt – higher than both credit cards and auto loans, and since 1990, student debt has grown by more than 700%.

These numbers, while astounding, serve as a warning sign – unfortunately, they will continue to rise if we stay on the current trajectory, with college costs following a steady increasing trend.

Paul Patrick, Chief of Staff for the College of Charleston, joined by a panel of local topic experts, spoke with us today at a Business in Your Backyard focused on the rising rates of college as well as strategies for affordability – both for institutions and the students who attend them.

Paul Patrick, Chief of Staff for the College of Charleston

While there is no silver bullet for how to address this issue, there are some potential options:

  • Slow expenditures at the campus level (read: do student apartments really need those granite countertops?)
  • Cut unnecessary administrative costs
  • Work to reduce the time students spend in college through increased dual and Advanced Placement courses or through revisions to university curricula that require fewer credits for degree completion.
  • Collaborate with government officials to find public policy interventions that will help achieve a comprehensive and sustainable solution

Both College of Charleston and Charleston Southern University are taking measures to make college more accessible and affordable for their students. For the 2019-20 school year, College of Charleston has committed to maintaining a flat $100 tuition increase (less than 1%) for S.C. students. Teri Karges, the Director of Financial Aid and Veterans Services for Charleston Southern, explained how the school is working to cut administrative costs, keep tuition increases to a minimum and provide discounts and institutional aid to students.

From left to right: Paul Patrick, Chief of Staff, College of Charleston; Fronde Stille, Director of Guidance, Charleston County School District; Teri Karges, Director of Financial Aid and Veterans Services, Charleston Southern University; Kevin Smith, Principal, C.E. Williams Middle School for Creative and Scientific Arts

While these efforts on the part of the schools will surely be of great help to many students, our panel also spent some time discussing the importance of not only considering, but embracing and celebrating, pathways other than four-year degrees. Rather than deciding when to start talking to children about college, conversations need to shift to focus on the pathway that each child wants to take – and then determining if college is the right option.

Kevin Smith, Principal of C.E. Williams Middle School for Creative and Scientific Arts, and Fronde Stille, Director of Guidance for Charleston County School District, talked at length about the growing importance of pathways other than the traditional college experience in allowing students to achieve successful and lucrative careers – often in less time and with no to low debt.

“Should anyone be priced out of the opportunity to go to college if it is a good fit for them?” Smith asked, reinforcing the idea that everyone should be able to pursue the educational and career paths that are the best fit for them, rather than having to make those big life decisions based on which option is affordable.

The Chamber’s work in talent advancement embraces this idea and the fact that there are opportunities out there that allow for flexibility in learning and earning. Our talent work, like Career Academies and Youth Apprenticeships, exposes students to jobs that are in high-demand and shows them how to pursue the necessary education to qualify for those jobs. Creative ways to connect students to experiential learning in industries with in-demand jobs are necessary to both bridge the talent gap as well as make a shift towards embracing all career pathways for the value and opportunity they provide to students.

In case you missed it, view the video we recently launched showcasing some of the amazing work our talent team is doing in our community.

Learn more about how you can get involved in the Chamber’s talent initiatives and continue to give visibility to careers and opportunities for all students and career-ready youth.

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