Abdul Hakim-Shabazz: A few tips can help keep rising college costs in check

This year will mark 30 years since I graduated from Northern Illinois University. I graduated with undergraduate degrees in media studies and broadcast news. At the time, tuition for in-state residents was just over $2,600 annually, and housing (I lived off campus) was under $1,100 a semester. Throw in books (which I will get to in just a bit) and other living, or partying, expenses, and I would say the average cost of my last year in college was about $8,000. Fast forward to today, tuition is almost $10,000 annually, and if you live on campus, you’re looking at another $10,000.

I bring this up because of the president’s plan to forgive some college loan debt. The plan is pretty simple, $10,000 for most borrowers and $20,000 if they received Pell grants. The income limit is $125,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples, and the White House expects most folks who make less than $75,000 annually will receive the benefits.

Now, of course, the big criticism is what about folks who paid their student loans, or the federal government is asking non-college grads to pay for people who went? Now, while I agree that most Americans don’t have student loans or didn’t attend college, I also submit to you they also don’t own investment banks, insurance companies, or auto manufacturing plants either.

But what the plan fails to address is the rising cost of college. A big problem with the costs of colleges is that for a while, in this country, we had the idiotic belief that everyone should go to college. I think whoever had that idea was confusing college with post-secondary education, i.e., community college, certificate, some type of training. And by handing out student loans like they were candy, we exponentially increased the costs of college. And it also didn’t help that states cut back on college funding.

But despite those increases, parents and students can do many things on their own to mitigate the rising costs of higher education. Here are a few:

  • Try dual enrollment in high school. If you can take college classes in high school, you’ll save a ton of cash. Some students can knock out their first two years of college while still in high school. And I know this works because I’ve taught in Ivy Tech’s dual credit program for more than a decade.
  • Speaking of community college, unless you’re applying to a specialized program, ENGL 101 is ENGL 101, regardless of where you attend school. And it’s a lot cheaper to work out those first two years at a community college than at a traditional four-year school, once again, particular majors notwithstanding.
  • I told you I would get to this part. When you get to campus, don’t buy new books if you can help it. Rent them instead. You can rent them online or from other students. When I was in college, I actually rented my textbooks to other students. I got my money back after a couple of semesters, and everything after that was pure profit, at least until the professor made students buy a new book.
  • Map out a schedule and stick with it. And finish on time. Taking 15-18 hours a semester and getting it done in four years is much cheaper than five.

And of course, there are other things you can do to mitigate the costs of college, such as avoiding using credit cards if you can, borrowing responsibly, and working while in school. These simple things can go a long way toward making college more affordable.

Because remember, if you don’t have to borrow, you don’t have to pay it back.

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.Org. He is also a frequent contributor to numerous Indiana media outlets. He can be reached at [email protected] Send comments to [email protected]