Student project eye-opener for college-boundSome of what Ashley Gronlund and Spencer Sitek discovered while researching the cost of higher education was front-page news. Student loan debt has hit over $1 trillion, topping national credit card and auto loan debt. The average student loan debt is now $28,000.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Some of what Ashley Gronlund and Spencer Sitek discovered while researching the cost of higher education was front-page news.
Student loan debt has hit over $1 trillion, topping national credit card and auto loan debt. The average student loan debt is now $28,000. But local data the two Superior High School DECA students collected to underlay the national numbers offered a more detailed picture.
“One of the things we found out with our student survey was a lot of students were like ‘Oh, yeah, I want to go to a school that costs $50,000,’ but they don’t know how they’re going to pay for it,” Gronlund said.
Although 80 of the parents surveyed had talked with students about college plans, only 40 had a financial plan, 35 had visited schools and less than 50 had met with their student’s guidance counselor. Although 63 percent of students surveyed said they were depending on scholarships and/or financial aid to pay for their college education, only 30 of the parents said they had applied for scholarships.
Student loans can be quite a costly proposition. Sitek said that if a student pays off $27,000 in loan debt over 20 years at 7 percent interest, they would wind up paying a total of $50,000.
“It was an eye-opener for me,” he said. “It’s always going to be in the back of my mind for my college career. And I’ve already started thinking about colleges and what prices are going to be and trying to create a budget.”
Superior High School DECA adviser Paul Zollver encouraged the two juniors to tackle the cost of education with their creative marketing research project.
“I thought the topic was something that had significance and would provide an excellent learning experience for these marketing students,” he said. Every year, the high school teacher assigns his marketing I students a project that asks them to identify the total cost of their future education.
“I have found students to be fairly oblivious to the magnitude of overall expense and their ability to pay it off,” Zollver said.
Gronlund and Sitek handed out surveys to 100 seniors at each Superior and Duluth East high schools. They also sent email surveys to parents with the help of the school’s Activities Director Ray Kosey. Some of the results were surprising, such as the low percentage of students interested in joining the military.
“The message we wanted to get out with our project was that when you go to a school that costs $50,000 you’re going to end up paying probably $100,000 once you pay it all back with all of the debt that you incur,” Sitek said. “And that you should find schools that you’re going to be able to pay for.”
They suggested students and parents discuss future education plans together and make realistic budgets.
The project was very well researched, said Kelly Bergum, a high school counselor.
“It’s good information,” she said. “I do think we can use it in conferences with juniors.” The conferences come at a time when parents and students are zeroing in on plans, and the more information they have, the better.
College tuition has gotten much more expensive, Bergum said, and many people are not expecting the current price tags.
The data collected by Gronlund and Sitek may carry more weight with their peers, she said, because it shows fellow students are looking into the issue, not just counselors and parents.
School data shows more students are considering local options based on cost and quality.
“We have really good schools right in our backyard,” Bergum said.
Fifty-three members of the Superior class of 2011 enrolled at UWS, according to Director of Admissions Tonya Roth. Over the last five years, an average of 55 Superior graduates enroll at the university annually.
“If you look at that number, we get about 50 percent of the college-bound students from SHS,” Roth said. The campus has developed a number of pre-college programs to spark student interest, she said, including a day where high school juniors can see what it’s like in the classroom and a senior kick-off day to provide basic information and help the upcoming graduates apply for financial aid.
The creative marketing research project netted Gronlund and Sitek a third place finish at state DECA competition. They will be among the 10 DECA students from Superior traveling to international competition in Salt Lake City, Utah from April 28 to May 3.
It’s the largest group the school has brought to international competition since 2002. Other students who qualified for the competition were Steven Mikel and Nicole Mattson in the buying and merchandising team event, Gerald Mikel in the sports and entertainment individual series, Ali Bergstrom and Rachel Radzak in marketing communication team series, Blake Johnson in automotive services marketing and Richard Mikel and Daniel Litchke with their public relations project. Three of the students — Bergstrom, Gerald Mikel and Mattson — actually qualified in two events and Johnson qualified in three events, but they had to select one event to focus on at the international level.
“These kids are remarkable students and have outstanding character and integrity as well,” Zollver said.