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March 22, 2013 4:58 PM Some Creative Ways to Avoid College Debt

By Bill Fay

Joseph Welch does push-ups and sit-ups to help pay for his college education.

He runs obstacle courses, participates in leadership seminars and occasionally has to attend functions like dinners and dances — all so that he can ease the $50,000 it costs to attend Stonehill College in Easton, Mass.

Welch is a member of the Army The Reserve Officers` Training Course (ROTC), which will save him about $150,000 by the time he collects his diploma from Stonehill in 2016.

Colby Donovan washes, dries and folds socks, jocks, and underwear to make ends meet while he pursues a degree in sports management.

He orders all the apparel and equipment for his school’s basketball team, checks on players’ class schedules, helps conduct individual workouts and keeps a bottle of water handy during every home and road game.

Donovan is the team manager for the University of Florida basketball program.

Going to college isn’t a bargain for anyone these days, but Welch and Donovan are examples of students who have gone around the traditional scholarship/loan path to deal with the runaway expense of getting a degree.

ROTC programs and grant money for students who help with athletic teams are available at most colleges. There are also opportunities at some schools to get help with expenses by playing in the marching band or spending two years in organizations like Peace Corps or AmeriCorps.

Paying for school is difficult. The cost to attend college has gone up an average of 5.6 percent every year over the last decade. Students at state universities pay twice as much for tuition as they did 10 years ago, while those in private schools are paying 65 percent more. The average borrower now graduates with $27,000 in debt attached to their diploma.

But both Donovan and Welch will graduate with no debt.

“That’s a really big deal,” said Donovan. “I did this to take some pressure off my parents, get some great experience and have some fun, but having no debt when I leave school … that’s huge.”

Donovan was an unpaid volunteer his first year at UF, but got full-time status his sophomore year. That meant $3,600 a semester for the next three years. It also meant trips to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament in 2011 and 2012 and a No. 3 seeding in the 2013 tournament.

“There are a lot of nights when you’re stuck doing laundry while you’re buddies are out partying and having a good time,” Donovan said. “But if you’re looking for another route to pay for school, this is definitely a good one. You get to see a lot of places and get a lot of experiences you can’t get in the classroom. I love doing it.”

Welch joined ROTC so he could do the same thing for his family: relieve some of the financial pressure. He wanted a small, private college atmosphere, and no matter where he looked, the costs were considerable.

“I think my parents would have made a sacrifice for me, but I couldn’t put the burden of a $200,000 college education on them,” he said.

His ROTC scholarship is actually for three years, meaning he doesn’t receive any money his freshman year. He had approximately $25,000 in grants going in, but he and his parents had to come up with the other $25,000 to get him through this first year.

And even though he wasn’t getting any financial support from ROTC, Welch still had to go through training as a freshman to stay qualified for the three-year scholarship. He works out three mornings a week, has a 6 a.m. leadership class on Thursdays, and spends one weekend a semester at a nearby military base doing maneuvers and other military exercises.

In return, his tuition, room and board will be covered for his last three years at Stonehill, and he’ll receive $400 a month in spending money, which will go up to $500 a month by his senior year. When he graduates from the ROTC program, he will have to spend six years in the U.S. Army or eight years with the Reserves or National Guard.

“I’m putting in a lot of work now, for a pretty big reward down the line,” Welch said. “I’ll be making more during the school year than most students make in their summer job. When I graduate, I’ll have a guaranteed job, medical benefits, housing benefits and get a lot of experience.

“Plus, I’ll have zero debt. That’s a pretty nice package.”

Bill Fay is a staff writer for Debt.org, an organization that organization that provides information on financial well-being. He has a background in reporting and writing, including work for daily newspapers and magazines and also for public officials.

Comments

  • scott peelen on April 08, 2013 11:48 AM:

    .......its nice to know someone appreciates where the dollars come from, and has the "sense" to share the concept w/ others. great job colby. go gators.....sp