Lower-Priced Colleges Offer Options to Student Debt

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This story was first reported in VOA Learning English. 

As tuition and fees have increased sharply in the U.S. over the past 30 years, schools are looking for ways to make college and university more affordable. 

Between 1990 and 2012 while college enrollment increased 62 percent, the volume of borrowing for school increased 352 percent, according to the Heritage Foundation. By the end of 2017, according to the Federal Reserve Bank, national student loan debt in the United States was $1.48 trillion. 

One popular option is community college. These schools offer a two-year study program that awards an associate’s degree at a cost vastly less expensive than four-year schools. Those credits are typically transferrable to a four-year college or university where a student can achieve a bachelor’s degree. 

Some four-year colleges and universities, often public institutions, offer free tuition but ask students to pay for room and board, like housing and food. Books and other school supplies may also be the responsibility of the students, which may add up to an unaffordable package of schools costs from some students.

Some colleges exchange part-time work on campus for lowered tuition and fees.

Berea College in rural Kentucky, does not charge tuition. The school looks for students who would otherwise struggle to pay for college.

“You have to be economically disadvantaged to get in,” Richard Cahill told VOA. He is a history professor and Director of the Center for International Education at Berea.

“We try to take the brightest of economically disadvantaged students to give them a world-class education,” he said.

The college has a history of helping people who have less since 1855. It was started by the Rev. John G. Fee, who opposed slavery. From its beginning, black and white students, male and female, studied together. 

Now, there are 1,600 students, and more than 25 percent are black. 7 percent international students from over 70 countries. And “30 foreign students from 3,000 who begin their applications.”

Now, there are 1,600 students. Forty percent of Berea College’s student body identifies as a person of color, according to its website and Cahill says nearly 25 percent are African-American, 10 percent are Hispanic and 7 percent international students, representing more than 70 countries.Cahill says every year the school accepts 30 of 3,000 foreign students who compete for admission online. Students work 10 to 20 hours a week on the Berea campus, to pay for room and board and books.

Other four-year colleges where international students can be part of a work program to cover all or part of their tuition include:  

· College of the Ozarks — also known as “Hard Work U.” This Christian school near Branson, Missouri, admits a small number of international students. Every student works 15 hours a week, and two 40-hour work weeks a year to cover the cost of tuition.

· Warren Wilson College is a small liberal arts college near Asheville, North Carolina, with just under 700 students. Students work on campus and earn over $2,000 toward tuition. Depending on financial needs, international students may get full-tuition paid by a program called Milepost One, or other scholarships. The campus includes a 300-acre farm where students work and grow food served on campus.

· Barclay College is a smaller school with a few foreign students in rural Haviland, Kansas, a Midwest state. It is a small Christian liberal arts school with only 170 students. Director of Admissions Justin Kendall told VOA they offer free tuition to boost enrollment, and students are responsible for about $16,000 a year for room and board. Donors help make up the difference at the school. Kendall said, “they love the college, and what we’re doing here.” He says foreign students do “really, really well” there because of the small size. “They get a lot of personal attention here.”

· Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia offers free tuition. The school “highly values a diverse international student body,” according to its website. Musicians from 20 countries make up nearly 40 percent of the students. The school requires an audition and admits very few students. 

Service academies

U.S. military academies –- also called service academies because graduates must serve in the Navy or Marines after graduation — are technically free and even offer a stipend to students that increases as they rise in grade. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point is the oldest of the military colleges, dating back to 1802. The U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) was founded in 1845 and is known as Annapolis, in Maryland where it is located. The Coast Guard and Air Force academies are younger, established in 1930 in New London, Connecticut, and 1945 in Colorado, respectively. 

But admission rates are extremely low, meaning these service academies are highly selective, requiring applicants to show not only excellent grades and test scores, but exemplary community service and recommendations from elected lawmakers. 

The service academies offer slots to international students, but they are selected and sponsored by their home country governments, and be between the ages of 17 and 22 to be considered for admission. The countries are selected by the U.S. State Department and Department of Defense. West Point says American embassies ask each invited nation to nominate up to six candidates to compete for admission to the school.

West Point’s website says up to 60 international students may study at the academy at a time. The same is true for the U.S. Air Force Academy and U.S. Naval Academy. The U.S. Coast Guard Academy also admits international students. 

West Point spokesman Frank DeMaro Jr. told VOA that the most recent class has students from 14 countries, including Colombia, the Gambia, Jordan, Rwanda and Thailand. After graduation, he says, they return to their countries and serve as officers in their armed forces. Graduates of U.S. service academies are expected to serve in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard on active duty after graduation. 

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