Student Debt: Let’s Talk Solutions

By AACC Staff

Interest rates for student loans went up at the beginning of this month and every major newspaper from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal is talking about the critical issue of student debt. But while all the headlines are focused on the problem of college affordability, we want to talk about the solutions.

Community colleges have always been students’ most affordable option, so we’re challenging ourselves to continue to innovate. We know that the cost of higher education can be a barrier for students at every milestone along their educational pathway, not only when they are deciding whether to enroll in college or go straight into the workforce, but also once they are already in college, when increasing debt can become an obstacle to completing their degrees. At AACC we’ve spent the last three years diving deep into research, conducting focus groups with higher education leaders across the nation, all to create a new agenda for community college reforms — one that specifically focuses on how we can help students tackle barriers, including financial constraints, to reach their goals of degree attainment.

Some of the programs and resources recommended in our Implementation Guide, distributed to community college administrators and other partners across the nation, are already being implemented on the ground.

  • Through its College Connections program, Austin Community College is collaborating with K–12 schools in their districts to provide free placement testing and assistance with financial aid applications.
  • The nonprofit Single Stop USA works with the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) to help students apply for a variety of college supports. They have connected tens of thousands of community college students with more than $100 million in financial and other support, including tax credits and financial counseling.
  • Through Benefits Access for College Completion, seven community colleges are working to fill the gap between financial aid and the resources students need to attend college and complete their degrees. They are testing ways to connect students to supports such as childcare subsidies, food assistance and tax credits.

Through programs like these, we are committed to making student success and completion a reality for every student who steps on our campuses — increasing interest rates on loans or not. The AACC 21st Century Center also provides online resources for students and faculty to learn more about advocacy and funding efforts.

Let’s change the headlines from stating the problem of college affordability to talking about solutions.

AACC Staff

contributed to this report.

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