High School Seniors Face Decision Time

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(Host) This is decision time for high school seniors thinking about college. Many are now weighing financial aid offers, and deciding both where they want to go… and what they can afford.

VPR’s Samantha Fields has more.

(Fields) Laurie Berryman has been doing college outreach with the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation for 16 years. She says it’s important to get students thinking about what they want to do after high school… and how they’re going to afford it… when they’re young. So she starts working with students as early as the 7th grade.

(Berryman) If students can work while they’re in high school trying to figure out," what do I like to do? What am I interested in?" then they’re making a better choice potentially. Because I do think there is this push for 4 years. Which makes a lot of sense in some cases, and in some cases maybe it’s not the best choice for the individual.

(Fields) The increasing cost of college has students taking out bigger loans to pay for it. The average loan debt for a student graduating last year was $24,000. And last year, too, student loan debt outpaced credit card debt for the first time.

So for many low income and middle class students, a difficult question arises: is a college degree is worth the debt?

Berryman says it’s critical for students to pursue some kind of post-secondary education – but, she says it’s important for students and families to be realistic about what they can afford.

(Berryman) What we’re trying to do statewide is educate people about what are all the options out there.

(Fields) For some students, she says, that may be a four year degree… for others, it may mean starting at a community college… or pursuing a non-degree certificate.

Berryman says that decision depends on what a student wants to do, and what financial aid they’re offered.

(Berryman) What we have to stop doing is putting so much pressure on our young people to think about where am I going to go? It needs to be more about, what do I think I want to do? And what do I need to do to get there?

(Fields) Bill Stenger is the owner of Jay Peak Resort. He looks for employees that have some kind of higher education… but that doesn’t have to be a four year degree.

(Stenger) I look at somebody who’s gone through college… they’ve obviously met criteria for credits, they’ve met criteria for their major, they’ve stuck with it, they’ve achieved something that has meaning. And that to me as an employer translates that they will hopefully carry those commitments and dedication into their job.

(Fields) Berryman says that the earlier students start thinking about their interests, and learning what higher education costs… the easier it will be to decide what kind of schooling – and what level of debt – are right for them.   

For VPR News, I’m Samantha Fields.



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