Know all your options to help ease the burden of student debt

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By Erin Eagan


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The burden of student loan debt leaves many current and future college students worried they won’t be able to support themselves once they graduate — and unfortunately for many of them, there is reason to worry. According to LendEDU, Wisconsin grads carry an average of nearly $30,000 in student loans. Loan payments averaging $350 per month are preventing these graduates from buying a home or car, starting a family or saving for retirement.

Student debt is now the second largest consumer debt in the country, behind only mortgage debt. While a solution to the problem may be a long ways off, in the meantime, it’s important for college students to be informed before making their career and higher education decisions to alleviate their burden.

Know your options
Four-year college isn’t for everyone — and it doesn’t have to be. There are hundreds of rewarding careers that can be obtained with an associate degree, technical diploma or certificate — everything from web development to plumbing and everything in between.

Wisconsin’s technical colleges offer hands-on training for these careers from industry experts who help students enter the workforce fully prepared. In fact, 94% of all of Wisconsin’s technical college graduates find work within six months of graduation while earning a starting median salary of $38,529. And along the way, with affordable tuition, these technical college students take on less debt — or no debt at all.

For jobs that do require a bachelor’s degree or higher, it can be advantageous to start at a technical college and transfer to a four-year school to finish the degree. All 16 of Wisconsin’s technical colleges have program-specific transfer agreements with four-year private colleges and universities within the University of Wisconsin system. Or through the Universal Credit Transfer Agreement, a year’s worth of general credits taken at any of the state’s technical colleges can seamlessly apply toward a bachelor’s degree.

Student success stories
Some students make the decision to attend a four-year university but later discover it isn’t a good fit, accumulating mounds of debt along the way. “I was originally attending a four-year college, but it didn’t feel right,” says Tom Nienow, a nursing student at Northcentral Technical College. “I was going through the motions and barely thinking about my career or even if it was the right career path for me,” he says. “At NTC, I found a college experience that is career-focused and determined to teach students the skills necessary for the workplace.”

Melanie Ruelas graduated with an associate degree in Supervisory Management with an emphasis in finance. “What I really love about technical college is that you can gain knowledge, skill and experience all at the same level as you can a university — but it’s affordable,” she says. She now manages two Summit Credit Union branches. Wanting to add another skill to her resume, she joined Entry Level Firefighting at Madison College and received her certificate in November of 2017.

While the costs of higher education remain on an upward trend, it’s more important than ever for students to weigh all their options and choose wisely on the path to career success.