The following is a monthly column from Dr. Darrin Hartness that ran in the Lexington Dispatch and the Davie Enterprise in the month of February 2020.
Facing the turbulent waters of debt is exhausting and consuming. It is a feeling that I, like many in our community and country, have experienced firsthand. Early in our marriage, when our children were young, Lisa and I lived beyond our means and carried credit card balances. I fell for many of the offers I received in the mail, and it was just too easy to spend without a plan to pay back. Each month’s new bills brought constant worry, weight, and fear of how we were going to pay back what we charged plus the interest. We finally developed a plan to pay off those credit cards and pledged only to use them if we paid them off each month, avoiding interest. The more I talked to friends, the more I realized we were not alone in treading the waters of debt.
The trends over the past 15 years illustrate that more Americans are facing deeper debt. According to the New York Fed Consumer Credit Panel and Equifax, mortgage loan debt has increased by 58 percent and credit card debt has increased by 22 percent. Student loan debt has far outpaced the growth of these two combined at an unfathomable 472 percent, yes 472%! In 2004, before the great recession, Americans held about $250 billion in debt. In the 16 years since, debt has accelerated to $1.5 trillion.
One of the reasons why student loan debt has increased so rapidly is the cost of public and private four-year colleges and universities. The mission of higher education is to build pathways, so students may progress to personal, professional and financial success. Each student has their own passions, skills, outlook and vision for how they want to live their life. Realizing the American dream requires sacrifice, risk, hard work, and when coupled with education, leads to success in the future. Sometimes, the loans to reach that future pay off in a bachelor’s degree from a four-year institution. For many others, the return on that time and financial investment does not outweigh the cost of what was borrowed. This does not have to be the reality of higher education for students. Community colleges, like DCCC, provide a quality, affordable path forward for many students.
First, let’s compare the cost of college itself. For public institutions such as UNC Chapel Hill or NC State, students will pay nearly three and a half times more for their tuition in the same amount of time. At private institutions such as Duke and Wake Forest, that cost skyrockets to as much as 22.5 times more. Even beyond the initial cost, however, is the return on investment.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that 2018 graduates who received a bachelor’s degree earned an average starting salary of $50,004. Yet many of the credentials offered at DCCC lead to jobs that meet or exceed that average starting salary, including high paying jobs in computer and information science, healthcare, engineering and business. According to the US Department of Labor, web developers with an associate degree can see earnings of $71,590 in our area. Electrical engineering technicians can earn $47,240 with an associate’s degree. Legal support workers see salaries of $42,730, and a registered nurse with an associate’s degree earns between $51,680 to $67,280 annually. DCCC has pathways that can lead to excellent career paths without the price tag and debt of four-year colleges and universities.
While both the short and long-term benefits of attending DCCC are incredible and wide-ranging, financial viability can be a real concern. Barriers may exist that make an immediate cost seem high. There are families to feed and support, a roof to keep over your head, and medical bills to be paid. The list goes on. These are realities our community, and in fact many of our students, face every day. To those nervous about that immediate cost, we see you, we hear you, and we are here to assist you.
Our faculty and staff work to find the programs and support to make DCCC a choice you make confidently and enthusiastically. From grant opportunities, to scholarships through our DCCC Foundation, there are opportunities to bring that cost down even further and make college an affordable reality. For students in Davidson County, high school graduates who have taken courses through our College and Career Promise can enroll at DCCC with little to no cost. For eligible Davie County graduates, Ignite Davie College Promise opens the door to all DCCC has to offer, also at little to no cost. Our partnerships with local businesses and industries lead the way for students to earn while they learn through apprenticeships.
Here is my proposition to you: learn what DCCC can do to help you reach your personal goals. Meet with enrollment and financial aid counselors on either of our campuses. Alternatively, mark your calendar and join us for Open House happening Saturday, April 25, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on the Davidson campus. You will be able to learn not only about the program offerings to meet your goals, but also the resources to help you navigate the cost of college.
A host of resources and services are available to you so that a diploma, certificate or degree is closer and more financially viable than you think. The beginning of a journey to a fulfilling job with a living wage will allow you to use what you earn to enjoy a better life instead of paying down debt. You are not “a loan!”