NEW BERN. N.C. – Christopher Campbell doesn’t want his two daughters to be saddled with debt after they graduate from college.
The career Marine will divide his GI Bill money between them to make sure of it.
Tasia Campbell, a 2016 Havelock High School graduate, plans to go to Craven Community College for two years, then later use her father’s GI Bill to attend a bigger college that’s more expensive.
“I want to see her to be able to get a good footing in life and not have to have a huge financial burden to have to pay back later in life like a lot of kids do now,” said the proud father who, in June, watched his eldest receive her diploma at Havelock High School.
As June’s high school graduates prepare to leave this month to begin their college educations, many face the challenge of how to pay for that higher education without incurring mounds of student loan debt. Just as an example, at East Carolina University, a full-time student would pay more than $12,000 for tuition and a dorm room per year, which doesn’t include a potential college meal plan for about $4,000 more or even books and supplies that can total more than $1,000 per year.
According to the White House, nearly 70 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients leave college with some debt. Student loan debt in the country totals $1.2 trillion, putting a financial burden on some as they are just starting out to create their own lives. With about 4.3 million Americans owing some type of student loan debt, presidential candidates have even addressed the issue during the 2016 campaign.
The average loan payment for post graduates between 20 and 30 years old is $351 per month.
Angela Griffith, of Havelock, knows all about it. Her son William just graduated from Lenoir-Rhyne University, a private college where tuition and fees totaled $48,000 per year.
“We did financial aid, scholarships, loans,” she said. “He played football while he was there. It worked out. It pays off in the end. We’re grateful.”
Like Griffith and many other parents, Tye Kleinke places a high priority on finding money for his college-bound son Kyle, who graduated from Havelock in June.
“There’s nothing more important,” said Kleinke. “We have to keep the house over the head, but other than that, the number one priority is getting him his education so that his future is bright.”
Many college-bound students and their families apply to FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid from the Office of the U.S. Department of Education. It can provide grants or work-study funds to qualifying students who can see college costs reduced or even eliminated. It also can provide student loans.
“There’s FAFSA, which we have applied for and we’re waiting to hear how much money we can get from the federal aid,” said Kleinke. “And then any gaps that I need to fill in from there I would have to take out a personal loan, either borrow against my 401K or maybe take out a loan from the house just to fill the gap in. Hopefully we can get some grants and some scholarships with his GPA being as high as it is.”
From preschool to high school, Kleinke said the family has stressed the importance of maintaining good grades so that their son would be eligible for more scholarships and not be so dependent on loans that would have to be paid back.
“He’s maintained above a 3.65 average unweighted,” said Kleinke. “He’s done his share, so it’s time for us to see what we can do for him.”
Scholarships can greatly reduce the cost of college. As an example, graduates in Havelock’s class of 2016 totaled $3.8 million in scholarships, with amounts ranging from $500 to a $414,000 U.S. Air Force Academy appointment. The scholarships come from a variety of sources, such as businesses, civic groups like the Civitans or Rotary clubs, and from the college or universities themselves.
But generally they all require at least one thing — good grades.
Seth Schneider, a Havelock 2016 graduate, said good grades throughout school are key to opening doors to pay for college. He’s leaving this month for N.C. State to study engineering.
“We’ve saved up throughout the years, but hopefully student loans for the other end of it,” Schneider said of paying for college. “It’s extremely important. It’s the whole way I got into the college. It’s how I got scholarship opportunities and offers, and the only way I got all of that is through hard work and good grades.”
Three of John Gumbel’s sons went to college after high school and all of them participated in Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps that paid for college. But it may not be for everyone, as it includes a military service commitment after college graduation.
“If the child wants to go into the military it is, but if he’s not so inclined then it’s probably a bad way to go,” said Gumbel.
Still, like all other scholarships, good grades and extracurricular activities are a requirement if students want to potentially avoid large loans after graduation from college.
“There’s a lot of competition for those scholarships, a tremendous amount, so the kid’s really got to be on the step to get those kinds of scholarships,” said Gumbel. “They need grades. They need extracurricular activities. They need SAT scores. They need to show that they have had some leadership positions and depending on the scholarship, they need to also be very physically fit, so for the Marine Options Scholarship or for an Army ROTC Scholarship, they have to show fitness as well.”
The father said students need to take advance placement courses in high school to build up grade point averages.
“That’s essential,” he said. “That raises your weighted GPA and your class standing and you need a high standing, so taking every AP class you can get is very important.”
Alexa Cruz is a Havelock graduate that knows the power of good grades. She is going to UNC-Greensboro to major in nursing.
“I actually got a full ride,” said Cruz. “I applied for the N.C. Veterans Affairs Scholarship and they gave me a full ride to a public four-year college. It’s awesome, like I don’t have to stress over paying for college. My older sister goes to Chapel Hill and money’s kind of tight, so having this full ride really helps everyone.”
Cruz said she qualified because she got good grades.
“Just always try your best,” said Cruz. “Do your homework. Don’t procrastinate because that’s a really big no-no. Always listen to your parents because they have the best advice to give you. They’ve been through it. Always just have that good mindset.”