This op-ed was published in the Columbus Dispatch on March 12, 2021 here.
Americans owe an estimated $1.57 trillion in student loan debt. Some want the debt “forgiven,” and some want college to be “free.” Like most important topics in today’s society, it can quickly turn into a polarizing discussion.
Politics aside, there are affordable solutions out there for students and families if you know how to navigate the system. It’s my goal to help you figure out how to reach your destination.
If you take advantage of the opportunities available right now in Ohio, you can receive a college degree, an industry-recognized credential and a pathway to a rewarding career, all debt-free, no matter your age or background.
Earn college credit while in high school
Ohio’s College Credit Plus helps high school students earn college and high school credits at the same time. Students can complete college courses through Ohio colleges and universities for free. As of the 2019-20 academic year, College Credit Plus students have earned 969 certificates and 2,666 associate’s degrees. Learn more on the College Credit Plus webpage.
Career-ready before graduating high school
Ohio has been and will continue to be a champion in career and technical education and training. Our administration’s proposed budget supports the opportunity for students to earn 70,000 industry-recognized credentials each year. Students can start early on their career pathway by earning these credentials for free before even graduating high school. These in-demand credentials can help students qualify for graduation and earn more in their future careers. Every school district in Ohio is part of a career-technical planning district and can offer courses for credentials.
Students can also transfer many career-tech and credential courses into college credit at Ohio’s public colleges and universities — allowing them to start with credits already under their belts.
Easily turn a two-year degree into a bachelor's degree
You can also begin a low or no-cost path to a bachelor’s degree by starting at a community college. During the 2020-21 school year, tuition at an Ohio community college was around $5,000, which is below the maximum Federal Pell Grant. This means that learners who complete the FAFSA could qualify for a full Pell Grant and attend a public community college for free.
Ohio is one of the best states in the nation for helping you turn your previously earned credits and job experience into a degree. If you’ve completed coursework at another school or gained experience another way, chances are an Ohio college or university will recognize that in the form of transfer credits. Learn more about the Ohio Guaranteed Transfer Pathway at OhioHigherEd.org/OGTP.
Turn your experience into a degree
Ohio has several programs to help you turn your previous experience into a degree. Through Ohio’s “One-Year Option,” students who’ve earned an industry-recognized credential through an Ohio Technical Center can receive up to 30 technical credit hours toward an associate’s degree.
The Prior Learning Assessment program awards college credit for experiences gained outside the classroom.
Veterans are able to transfer their military experience into college credit.
Ohio’s Apprenticeship Pathways initiative turns apprenticeship experience into academic credit. This creates a pathway to an associate’s degree through one of Ohio’s community colleges at minimal cost — and you can even earn while you learn.
Earn credentials or a degree while you work
More than half of employers offer tuition assistance for employees pursuing degrees, but fewer than 10% of the employees actually use the benefit annually. Tuition reimbursement and pre-imbursement help Ohioans earn a degree at no cost. Check with your human resources department to learn whether your employer offers tuition assistance.
Today in Ohio, there are pathways to receive a degree or a credential at little or no cost. The pathways are also flexible so you can work, earn, and learn at the same time by taking classes on campus, online, or often at your work site. These programs were created to serve you and to help you get the education you need to start a career without the financial burden of college debt. Over the next few weeks, check out my social media pages to see some real-life examples of how students have made it work for them. I hope you will, too.