Wisconsin offers alternatives to high student debtStephanie Schuebel is way ahead of her time. You might not think so at first glance, especially if you carry the prejudices of the high-debt, big-name-college generation.
By: By Mike Nichols, Superior Telegram
Stephanie Schuebel is way ahead of her time.
You might not think so at first glance, especially if you carry the prejudices of the high-debt, big-name-college generation.
The 18-year-old from Baraboo is working on an associate degree in liberal arts at the tiny, two-year University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County. With a 3.7 grade point average in high school, she could have gone to a lot of four-year schools that would have cost her an arm and a leg and a chunk of a paycheck until her hair turns gray.
Instead, she goes to a place that charges less than $5,000 per year in tuition and fees — about half what UW-Madison charges and a tenth of what you can spend at private schools with dorms and meal plans.
Thanks to a scholarship, help from her parents and a job as a dental assistant, she’s debt-free — unlike the majority of her peers elsewhere.
Wisconsinites who graduated from college in 2010 carry an average student loan debt of $24,600. Many go on to get ulcers instead of jobs.
Deciding to take on mountains of debt at the age of 17, when a lot of kids make college decisions, sounds OK if the plan is to focus on a lucrative career, get out of school quickly and find a paycheck. You know what they say, though, about the best laid schemes of mice and students.
Anyway, “a majority of students here don’t know what they want to do,” said Schuebel, standing on campus on a brilliant November afternoon. “They’re trying to get their associate degree and then transfer somewhere else. I think only the truly insane know what they want to do.”
Deb Martin, a mental health counselor at the college, confirmed most kids that age don’t know what they want to do exactly: “Thank goodness.” Scientists have discovered in recent years the brain doesn’t stop developing until well into the 20s, she noted. Sure, there are some who’ve wanted to be firemen since age 6. They’re the same ones who marry their grade school sweetheart — for a while.
I hope my kids don’t read this because although I, of course, walked both ways to school uphill and paid big for the privilege, I’m going to admit we had it easier back in the day. College was cheaper then. And despite racking up over $20,000 in debt, I paid it off when we sold our first house in a booming real estate market that kids can now read about in the history books.
That’s not the only change. The accountants will say kids should either keep their debt low by getting out quickly or focus on big-money jobs. The biologists and psychologists counter that many kids are still growing mentally, and can’t know where they’ll end up. The conflict is causing a lot of stress as kids realize they own $30,000 or $50,000 or even $100,000 in student loans while collecting $1 tips at the local pub.
There’s another way. There are 13, two-year, liberal arts colleges in Wisconsin and they aren’t perfect. You won’t get Big Ten football or beer pong in a dorm in Baraboo. But you will get little, if any, debt and a guaranteed ticket after two years to, for example, UW-Madison as long as you basically have a 2.8 average — much lower grades than Madison generally requires of kids applying right out of high school.
If you get into Madison or an elite four-year university directly from high school, you can’t be dumb.
Nowadays, though, in the age of crushing student debt and new revelations about how much kids change between the ages of 17 and 25, maybe the really smart ones are standing where Stephanie Schuebel is on a day brilliant enough to see a glimpse of the future.
Mike Nichols is a syndicated columnist who spent 18 years writing about Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is now a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. This column represents only his personal opinion. Contact him at MRNichols@wi.rr.com.