Abdul-Hakim Shabazz: There are ways to keep college costs in check

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Abdul-Hakim ShabazzThis year will mark 30 years since I graduated from Northern Illinois University. I graduated with undergraduate degrees in media studies and broadcast news.

At the time, tuition for in-state residents was just over $2,600 annually, and housing (I lived off campus) was under $1,100 a semester. Throw in books (which I will get to in just a bit) and other living, or partying, expenses, and I would say the cost of my last year in college was about $8,000.

Fast forward to today: Tuition is almost $10,000 annually, and if you live on campus, you’re looking at another $10,000.

I bring this up because of the president’s plan to forgive some college loan debt. The plan is pretty simple. It wipes out $10,000 for most borrowers and $20,000 for those who received Pell grants. The income limit is $125,000 for singles and $250,000 for couples, and the White House expects that most people who will receive the benefits make less than $75,000.

Of course, the big criticisms are: What about folks who paid their student loans? And why is the federal government asking non-college grads to pay for people who went to college? Now, while I agree that many Americans don’t have student loans or didn’t attend college, I also submit to you that they don’t own investment banks, insurance companies or auto manufacturing plants, either.

But what the plan fails to address is the rising cost of college. A big reason for the high costs is that, for a while in this country, we had the idiotic belief that everyone should go to college. I think whoever had that idea was confusing college with post-secondary education—i.e., community college, a certificate, some type of training. By handing out student loans like they were candy, we exponentially increased the costs of college. It also didn’t help that states have cut back on college funding.

But despite those increases, parents and students can do many things on their own to mitigate the rising costs of higher education. Here are a few …

◗ Try dual enrollment in high school. If you can take college classes in high school, you’ll save a ton of cash. Some students can knock out their first two years of college while still in high school. I know this works because I’ve taught in Ivy Tech Community College’s dual-credit program for more than a decade

◗ Speaking of community college, unless you’re applying to a specialized program, English 101 is English 101, regardless of where you attend school. It’s a lot cheaper to work out those first two years at a community college than at a traditional four-year school—particular majors notwithstanding.

◗ I told you I would get to this part. When you get to campus, don’t buy new books if you can help it. Rent them instead. You can rent them online or from other students. When I was in college, I actually rented my textbooks to other students. I got my money back after a couple of semesters, and everything after that was pure profit, at least until the professor made students buy a new book.

◗ Map out a schedule and stick with it. And finish on time. Taking 15-18 hours a semester and getting your degree done in four years is much cheaper than spending five years on it.

And, of course, you can take other steps to mitigate college costs—avoid using credit cards if you can, borrow responsibly and work while in school.

Because, remember, what you don’t have to borrow, you don’t have to pay back.•


Shabazz is an attorney, radio talk show host and political commentator, college professor and stand-up comedian. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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