OPINION: Zero Student Debt Should be Goal of All Colleges

Kylee Martin from Goodland was one of thousands of Kansas high school students considering their college options. She visited a couple of state schools. Even after receiving some great scholarships, she knew that student loans were inevitable. She qualified for over $40,000 in loans to pay for her degree—it was tempting to take the money, but she didn’t need it. She didn’t end up at a state school. Instead, she came to McPherson College. As a student here, she realized quickly that she didn’t have to mortgage her future. Kylee joined our Student Debt Project and learned how to manage her finances to take care of the cost of education before graduation.

We don’t think graduating with a mortgage on your education needs to be a solution to college access. And as a private institution, we’ve done something about it. We make college accessible without lots of debt. The Student Debt Project helps students at McPherson College eliminate their need for loans so they can graduate with little—to zero—student debt.

National media are obsessed with the price of a college education, while colleges are countering with bigger scholarships. Nationwide, student loan debt is at an all-time high of $1.52 trillion—second only to mortgage debt. Some 371,000 Kansans collectively owe more than $11.5 billion in federal student loans. In fact, among all Kansas graduates in the class of 2018, nearly 60% of them graduated with debt. I think what Kansans are worried about most is college loan debt. Debt should be the new focus of our discussion with college-ready families.

There’s a myth that students who attend private colleges accrue more debt than their public university peers.  But it’s not true nationally, and especially not true here in Kansas.  In fact, McPherson College graduates finish with no more debt than graduates from Kansas’ public universities—both average less debt than the price of a new Honda Accord.

Funny thing, though—about 81% of McPherson College graduates finish their degree in four years, compared to 66% of Kansas’ public university students.  That means our graduates are already out in the workforce earning a living, while their friends at public university are still working on their degrees.

The Student Debt Project combines financial literacy education, jobs and mentorships to create a pathway for students to graduate with little or no debt. McPherson College is matching a percentage of every dollar students contribute to their education while they are in the program.  Dedicated community mentors are supporting our students as they balance work, education and life during their college career, as well as providing financial management skills for a lifetime.

We developed the Student Debt Project because it’s good for the economy, good for families, good for Kansas, and good for the nation.

As the president of a small college that competes with state-run and for-profit schools, I’m often asked the question: Should small colleges exist?

My answer is, absolutely! Programs like the Student Debt Project are one reason why.

And when the Class of 2020 graduates in May, our focus on financial literacy, employment and mentorships will speak for itself. Kylee Martin will walk across the stage to receive her four-year degree at McPherson College, graduating with little—to zero—student debt.