Advice on avoiding college debt–at least for Missouri residents

The business section of the Post-Dispatch had a good article on avoiding college debt. It’s tricky, as even Mizzou costs $22,000 a year now. I’m pretty sure when I was a Tiger, it was more like $10,000 a year, though I had scholarships that knocked that down even more.

The strategy: Missouri has a pretty easy-to-get scholarship for junior colleges. An average student with good attendance and a passing grade in algebra can get nearly a free ride at a junior college for two years. Then, after getting the associate’s degree, transfer to a regional state school, such as the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where tuition is around $8,000 a year and scholarships are available.

It’s not an Ivy League education, but it’s an education, and it’s enough to be the difference between making $20,000 a year and making $40,000 a year.

If Missouri is doing this, there’s a good chance many other states have something similar.

Some will find the last two paragraphs offensive, but you can disagree with the last two paragraphs while heeding what the other paragraphs say.

The first two years of college were a mixed bag for me. I had some very good classes, and some very bad ones. Would I have missed much by going to a junior college for two years and then transferring to Mizzou? My college experience would have been different, but not necessarily worse. The best classes in a junior college won’t be as good as the best classes at Mizzou, because a junior college can’t pay enough to keep that caliber of professor. But I had a lot of classes that were taught by teacher’s assistants, some of whom had no business in front of the classroom. They were good students, but had no idea how to teach. At a junior college, those classes would have been taught by a professor. Avoiding those lows probably would be worth sacrificing the highs.

And the scholarship that made Mizzou dirt-cheap for me doesn’t exist anymore. So why not go to a junior college for two years and save 40 grand?

And if this stepping-stone option makes college possible when it otherwise wouldn’t be, so much the better. I know some people who didn’t go to college, and have still had very successful careers. One guy I know makes six figures. But those are the exceptions. As a landlord, I meet a lot of people in very bad situations, and most of them don’t have college degrees. Having a degree opens doors for you, and a $16,000 degree from a smaller regional school is good enough to do the trick–for the price of a relatively modest vehicle these days.

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