Unlike many American college students, Alicia Grayson, an undergraduate at Oklahoma State University, avoided a majority of financial problems associated with college.
Grayson had the state pay her tuition.
A participant in the Oklahoma Promise program, Grayson joined the program in the eighth grade. She pledged to maintain a 2.5 grade point average, stay off drugs and stay out of trouble.
In return, the state pledged to pay her tuition at the Oklahoma college of her choice.
Today, she will be leaving college with little in the way of her financial success. The program is offered to all 8th to 10th year students whose families make less than $55,000 annually. This, combined with low tuition costs, give students the best opportunity to pursue higher education.
Across the country, millions of young adults are preparing to dive head-first into a large pool of debt to go to college.
According to a report done by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, young, college-age borrowers in the second quarter of 2019 owed $1.5 trillion in student debt. This data shows a 116 percent increase in only 10 years.
These financial burdens leave most young adults in debt for the rest of their lives.
So, why are Americans willing to sink their finances for a degree with no promise of success?
The answer lies in expectations. American children are raised to believe that a degree is needed to truly succeed.
American students, it seems, are not properly prepared for the transition to college. The Association of American Colleges and Universities found that high school students expressed a need for a clear sense of their future employment goals.
“It’s daunting to have to decide right now what I’m going to have to do with the rest of my life; where I’m going to go to school, what I’m going to study, who I involve myself with. It is all-encompassing about how I’m shaping my future, what I’m going to do with my life, how I’m going to make money for the rest of my life. It’s just daunting,” said one high school student from Indianapolis.
The importance of such a big financial decision is often overlooked.
Experts say many students never think about why they truly want to attend college, because a college degree is almost always viewed as the next step in their success story. The majority of students go through college without a general idea of what they want to do for the rest of their lives.This leads to dropouts and degrees that are never utilized.
According to an article done by Forbes Magazine, the completion rate for a typical four-year for-profit institution is 35 percent.
In Oklahoma, some steps have been made to help students manage their debt. Oklahoma’s student loan debt story, an official with the State Regents for Higher Education said, is quite different from that of other states in the nation.
According to a report done by the nationally-recognized Project on Student Debt, Oklahoma ranks among the 10 states with the lowest student debt level, and more than half of the students at public universities graduate with no student loan debt.
“The State Regents and our public colleges and universities have long recognized the critical importance of family financial-aid planning and debt management education,” said Angela Caddell, the Associate Vice Chancellor for Communications with the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.
She said helping our students and their parents navigate the financial aid process is a key initiative of the Oklahoma College Assistance Program. Caddell said OCAP’s loan management initiative, Ready Set Repay, offers a guide to help your child successfully manage their education debt level.
Higher Education Chancellor Glen Johnson said the average debt for students attending in-state institutions at 30 percent less than the national average.
For Grayson and her family, the Oklahoma Promise program has been a game changer.
“I wish I would have signed my oldest son up for Oklahoma Promise,” said Leroy Daniels. “It has helped tremendously with his sister’s financial expenses. Oklahoma has paid for the majority of her education.”