Getting a degree without debt

Published 7:45 pm Thursday, July 13, 2017

Student debt is a national problem with effects on other parts of the economy.

The National Association of Realtors, for example, found that 62 percent of renters delayed buying their first home because of student loans.

The average student leaving East Carolina University has a debt burden of $27,774, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. Of ECU graduates in 2015, 68 percent carried debt. Choosing a community college such as Beaufort County Community College is one step to getting an affordable education without going into debt.

The average cost of attendance at ECU is $19,605 per year for a student living off campus. For the average student attending BCCC, the cost of attendance is $14,948 per year. The majority of this cost is for personal costs such as rent, gas and food — bills that students would have to pay regardless of whether they are attending school or working at a restaurant.

Most BCCC students will qualify for Pell grants depending on their family income. The average student receives about $5,920 in grants, which, unlike student loans, do not have to be repaid. A Pell grant might cover tuition and books, but students will still have to figure out pay for the majority of their day-to-day expenses while attending college.

One option is having a part-time job, but this can make focusing on college difficult. Work-study is an alternative that provides a valuable opportunity for on-the-job work experience either on campus or off. It gives students the flexibility to work around their class schedules. As long as students maintain their grades, they can work up to 12 hours per week. A student can expect to make about $510 per month, or $4,080 over eight months before taxes.

This program gives students entering the workforce an advantage over students who are leaving college with no work experience. The program gives students a taste of the expectations of employers when it comes to time management, behavior and team work.

For parents who are paying for childcare while they attend college, BCCC offers financial assistance. This program covers $140 per week per child for up to two children paid directly to the childcare provider. This means that a parent of two can save over $1,000 a month on childcare.

The BCCC Foundation offers numerous scholarships that can supplement other financial aid. For example, the James Franklin and Hannah Roberson Bagwell Endowment Scholarship is open to many promising students, while the Tri-County Foundation Scholarship is focused on students returning to college later in life to earn a degree.

Scholarship applicants will have to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which they can do online or on campus in Building 9 at the financial aid office. A FAFSA is also required for the work-study program and childcare assistance. Students can find applications for scholarships at the foundation’s website or visit the foundation office in Building 1 on campus.

Additional scholarships may also be available in the community. Students can research these scholarships and state grants on BCCC’s financial aid website.

Students would have to be pay any additional cost, but even that process is now less daunting. Last year, BCCC rolled out the new College Funds Installment payment plan. Instead of paying a lump sum at the beginning of the semester, students can make monthly payments while they attend classes. For some students, this payment plan can eliminate the need for picking up loans. This program avoids the interest charges that come with student loans.

A combination of these programs can mean that students can enroll in classes and cover their living expense without incurring any debt. Students can start their careers on firmer footing. Instead of sending their new paychecks off for loan payments, they can start building financial security.

For more information, contact Carol Willard, financial aid specialist, at and 252-940-6291, or Serena Sullivan, executive director of the BCCC Foundation, at and 252-940-6326.