How to Avoid Lifelong College Debt

While education costs rise, make sure you don’t fall prey to student debt



College is expensive.

That’s undeniable.


If you’re a parent getting ready to send your child to college, then I know you’ve looked at the price tags. Although, I don’t know you, so maybe you’ve been avoiding it. To catch everyone up to speed, it’s currently ranging from $28,000-$70,000 PER YEAR. Just looking at that number makes my heart beat faster, and I don’t even have a kid of my own. Just a whole lot that I help.


With expenses like this, racking up a total of $100,000 MINIMUM over (at least) four years, wouldn’t you want a guarantee on your return on investment (ROI)?


Well, since colleges aren’t ready to guarantee your ROI, the best thing you can do is to be smart. Mitigate the risk of your kid moving back into your basement (no matter how much you love them).


How?


Co-ops.


What are co-op programs?

Simply, co-op’s, short for cooperative education, combine classroom-based education with practical work experience.

Even simpler:

CLASSES + WORK = Your ROI

What makes co-op’s unique from internships is how they alternate school terms with work terms in a structured way, offering academic credit for each term.


To paint a picture:


Instead of career centers helping advise students on job listings and resumes, institutions with co-op programs have strong partnerships with a variety of employers to help pair students during their ‘work term’. And not just community partners, partners in other states and also globally. Yeah, think study abroad, minus the expense.


Co-op programs range from small to big, schoolwide to just departmental, and are only offered at a handful of schools.


Co-op Advantages?

By this point, you’ve probably picked up that I’m trying to sell you on co-op programs. Spoiler alert — I am. They are AMAZING, and how education should be. But, that’s just my (strong) opinion. Whether you agree or not, my true goal is not to persuade you, but to inform you.


For you skeptics, I’m going to save us both time and get to the point. Here are the advantages of co-ops:

  • Many co-ops are paid (and what college student doesn’t appreciate that?)

  • Most students are employed immediately after college or even before graduation (built in jobs after graduation? I’ve got mom and dad convinced now)

  • Co-ops help students evaluate a major (because learning in a classroom and learning through work experience are two very different things)

  • Better retention of classroom information when applying it in a work environment

  • Students leave college with experience on their resume


For you numbers people:

  • Paid co-op’s can range from $14 — $42.35 per hour depending on major and experience at Northeastern. (See here & here)

  • 95.5% of graduated students are employed, continued their education, or sought alternate paths after their co-op program at RIT. See here.

  • 87% of employed graduates are working in professions closely related to their field of study after Drexel. See here.

  • Students graduate with their undergraduate degree and 2.5 years of experience on their resume at institutions like Kettering University. See here.


What about these co-op programs make them successful?

I reached out and asked Northeastern’s president, Joseph Aoun, that same question.


He replied:

“Northeastern’s approach to experiential learning depends upon successful partnerships between the university, students, and employers. The University prepares students academically so they can take full advantage of the unique context offered by real-world work experience. Our students gain impactful real-world experience that contextualizes their learning, helping to shape their interests, skills, and goals. The employers provide meaningful opportunities for students to apply their learning, with feedback and mentorship along the way. In many cases, co-op jobs lead to employment offers for students after they graduate. It is win-win for all concerned — the university, the employer and, most of all, the student.”

At Northeastern, 96% of students participate in at least one co-op during their time as an undergraduate, even though it is not required for graduation (See here). Students optionally doing things? That sounds like a positive environment built for student success.


Another well-known school for their co-op programs, Drexel University has average starting salaries 14.3% higher than the national average post-graduation.


As a parent, that’s an exciting number because it means no basement living for your kid, but maybe you still want them to move closer to home after college.


To my surprise when researching, co-ops are anything but limited to the school’s community partners. Drexel partners with over 1,620 unique employers all over the U.S. including Apple, Amazon, JP Morgan, Boeing Company, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and, you get the point.


While they offer strong partnerships in their surrounding area of Pennsylvania, over 200 students go abroad, and more than 1,000 students go out of state each year. (See Here.)


I reached out to Lynne Hickle, Drexel University’s Executive Director of Cooperative Education, and asked what she thought made Drexel’s co-op program unique and so successful.

“Essentially, the differentiator for Drexel’s co-op program is the length of the program (6 months, fulltime), that it is required and also bookended with classes before and after. Therefore, students can use what they learn in the classroom on co-op and then apply what they learn on co-op back into their classes, thereby creating a continuous and beneficial learning model. And because of this model, employers can hire students year-round to do real work in their organizations, not work that could only be done by a summer intern, for example. Employers rely on Drexel co-op students heavily to contribute to the strategic goals and outcomes of the organization. They are essential, not a nice add-on, and employers view them as such. Therefore, Drexel’s co-op program has over 1,600 employers engaged in the co-op model.”


I loved my college, but why didn’t I know about this when I was looking for schools….


The More the Merrier!

Funny story.


Between writing this article, and the four personal statements I had wallpapering my desk, the rep from Portland State (PSU), Cree Dueker, walked into the College and Career Center excited to meet with students.


Since she was early and new to our area, we had the chance to chat prior to students arriving:


Me: “So, what’s new at Portland State?”


She replied with the usual rep response of new buildings, dorms, sprinkled with a new major or two. And continued,


Cree: “And I’m not sure if you already know this, but we just added co-op programs!”


Let’s stop here for a second. If you’ve made it to this point in the article, then I’m guessing you could predict what happened to my face.


Me: “WHAT? Hold on, let me start writing, okay, okay, tell me more! What made Portland State choose to start co-op programs now?”


Cree: “Yeah, it’s really exciting! We’ve always required a senior capstone project, but now we are rolling out co-op programs, open and optional to five of our main programs this year, and we are hoping to roll it out to all majors next year.”


Looking like a cartoon character, with my eyes wide open with excitement, “But, why this year? Why co-op programs?”


As a college counselor, this is my kind of juicy.


Laughing, maybe to humor my excitement, Cree continued,


“We have a new president this year and he is dedicated to offering more opportunities through research, centers for excellence and involvement within our surrounding community. He is a large fan of Northeastern’s program and wanted to connect what they are doing and bring it to the students. He wants to put the experience on students resumes, not just general skill building. Also, it helps promote PSU and strengthens the connections with the community and promotes dedication that benefits both.”

Thank you, Cree Drueker. I don’t know much about PSU’s new president yet, but I like him already.


Yes, I was excited about this serendipitous moment because newly implemented co-op programs help me prove my point. Co-op’s are an easy and reliable way for colleges to help provide students and families a promise of ROI.


What’s also exciting, is that with more colleges offering job placements post-graduation with rates higher than 90%, we’re helping grow awareness of an accountability measure (ROI!) that universities should be able to offer their students.


And BAM, my strong opinion has not stopped.

Where can you find these co-op programs?

This list wasn’t as easy to put together as I thought it would be. I was hoping for other write-ups on the internet to include in my article so I could link and share them with my community. Turns out, I needed to be the one to organize it.


I want to disclose that this list is not perfect, because I’m sure there are more schools with co-op programs, and hopefully this list continues to grow every year.


Perks of this being on the internet; you can help grow this list by adding more schools in the comments section. But please, no great ‘internships programs’ or ‘career offices’. Let’s keep it to co-op programs. Please and thank you. :)



Institutions with Co-Op Programs:

AUBURN UNIVERSITY

CLARKSON UNIVERSITY

DREXEL UNIVERSITY

ELON UNIVERSITY

FLORIDA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

GEORGIA TECH

HOFSTRA UNIVERSITY (Just Engineering and Applied Science)

JOHNSON & WALES UNIVERSITY

KETTERING UNIVERSITY

MERRIMACK COLLEGE

MISSOURI UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

NEW JERSEY INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

NORTH CAROLINA STATE

NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY

PURDUE UNIVERSITY

PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY

RAMAPO COLLEGE

ROCHESTER INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

SAINT JOSEPH’S UNIVERSITY

STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK OSWEGO

THE UNIVERSITY OF TOLEDO

UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI

UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT

UNIVERSITY OF PACIFIC (Engineering)

UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS, LOWELL (UMASS LOWELL)

UNIVERSITY OF WATERLOO (Canada)

WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY (Engineering & Computer Science Majors)

WENTWORTH INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

WIDENER UNIVERSITY