All posts by Joseph Cooper

Making the Case for Student Loan Repayment Benefits

With continued declining support from the states, it’s unlikely anyone would be surprised by the rising costs of higher education.  Colleges can and do point to declining state support, rising operational costs, etc., and while that may make sense with students and families, it doesn’t solve their ultimate concern of overwhelming student debt and how it will impact them after graduation.

In a 2017 survey from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), 98% of families indicated that they are looking for ways to lower the cost of college.  This shouldn’t be surprising, but the more impactful result of this survey was that 69% of students ruled out a particular college due to costs.  This number rose gradually from 58% when the survey was first distributed in 2008.  At the same time, federal aid applications (via the FAFSA) have risen this year to 86% on average.  The bottom line is that college is costing more and students and their families are struggling to find methods to pay.

According to studentloanhero.com, on average the class of 2016 graduates had $37,172 in student loan debt.  This was an increase of 6% from 2015.  Furthermore, the average monthly student loan payment that borrowers ages 20 to 30 years old must make are $351.  (Again, that’s just the average, so while some are lower, some are also significantly higher too.)

Colleges have to balance their budgets and can only make so many cuts.  Federal aid continues to be a controversial subject, and no drastic increases in aid or loan forgiveness are on the horizon.  Additionally, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is limited in who qualifies and the entire program is in question currently.  The statistics shared above make the case for new approaches and creative solutions, but not where you might expect them.  In a 2017 survey conducted by IonTuition, data shows that student borrowers are increasingly supporting the concept of employers offering student loan repayment assistance programs and benefits.  The survey found that 81% of more than 1,000 borrowers surveyed said they would like to work for an employer that offers student loan repayment plans.  While 87% of respondents noted that they are currently employed, the majority indicated that paying off their student loan balances remains a persistent problem.

Perhaps this is an opportunity for employers to try some new and innovative approaches to recruit graduates.  Of the respondents, 51% indicated that they would prefer a student loan repayment benefit over health care benefits.  Similarly, 49% said they would prefer the same over a 401(k) package.  According to NASFAA, these findings demonstrate that the concerns of young employees are vastly different from past generations, with a focus on paying down debt as opposed to planning for retirement or saving for other milestones.

IonTuition’s findings support the concept that companies can stay current by adding benefits that are more desirable to their workforce.  Offering student loan benefits to employees could be a creative way to recruit and retain talented college graduates.  Might this just be trading one financial problem for another?  Potentially, but that doesn’t change the data and the fact that young college graduates are looking for something new and different from their employers’ benefits packages


Mentors – Look Up, Look Down, Look Left, Look Right

October is Careers in Student Affairs month, a time in which we make efforts to explain our field of work and why we do it to those students who we feel may be interested or have potential.  One of the pieces we constantly emphasize is the value of mentors.  While there are many explanations of the term “mentor,” a quick Google search returns the result of “an experienced and trusted adviser.”

I realized that sometimes, when we say to “find a mentor,” students treated this like another task or homework assignment.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite from some sort of elaborate scavenger hunt.  It’s likely that all of us have mentors in our lives already, but perhaps we just haven’t assigned them that label and taken full advantage of them.

While I have served as a mentor for many of our students, I find myself reflecting on my own journey with mentors and how they have helped shape me into the professional and leader that I am today.

Supervisors

Since coming to Michigan Tech in 2009, I have had four different supervisors.  (Yes, that’s four supervisors in just over 7 years.)  Each of these supervisors has been very different and they have each given me things that I’ve absorbed along my professional journey.  During my time working for each, I’ve been asked difficult questions, been challenged more than I’ve probably liked, been rewarded for my accomplishments, and have been given the tools, trust, and encouragement needed to get the job done.  Most importantly, they’ve given me opportunities.  Opportunities to succeed, opportunities to fail, and opportunities to advance.  So while some people cringe at the notion of four supervisors in such a short amount of time, I take pride in this.  These folks, my mentors, saw potential, and through the challenges and scaffolding they provided, I was able to find other new and excited ways to move up in my professional journey while also still serving Michigan Tech.

Colleagues

It is often said that Abraham Lincoln surrounded himself with advisers who were better educated and more experienced than him in certain matters.  This thought may make some of us uncomfortable if you consider the traditional supervisor/employee roles, but it really shouldn’t.  While I can’t say it was intentional at the time, I’ve found myself surrounded at times with some extremely challenging folks in some of my past roles.  At times, it was frustrating.  In fact, I’d walk away from meetings wondering why certain individuals were being so difficult.  Why weren’t they thinking like me?!  But then, I had a chance for them to evaluate my performance and I also had some of my other supervisors/mentors challenge me.  “Try another angle,” they said.  And I did.  How productive it was to not fight the current anymore, and instead, to have meaningful and healthy dialogue and disagreements.  I was often wrong.  And I’m comfortable with that.  Some of my peers and those who I have supervised have become some of my most meaningful mentors.  I trust them, and in turn, they trust me.  They taught me to be a better supervisor, and they helped form such a powerful and motivated team that had a true focus on the students. 

Students

Students…  18, 19, 20, 21 year olds.  How can they be mentors?  I’m sure they don’t see themselves as such, but I can say after working in this field for more than 10 years that they have been some of my most impactful mentors.  Each meeting with a student is something entirely different, and their words and experiences can often leave you speechless.  I often reflect on students I’ve worked with and advised, and I hope that I’ve served them as best as I possibly could have.  Many students have come to trust me, and I take pride in having earned that.  But why not flip this around?  For those students who have chosen to trust me, I’ve found much value in giving them my trust.  Even more importantly, I have found value in asking for their feedback and advice.  By doing this, not only are we giving students the voice they should have anyways, but we’re also receiving the best possible information and opinion, from the source.  This is the meaning of an adviser.  This is the meaning of a mentor.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”

-Dr. Brene Brown

Learning happens at every moment, and everyone has something to offer.  Dr. Brene Brown is credited with the quote, “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”  In the end, never underestimate the ability to listen and learn from everyone around us, no matter who they are.  By being vulnerable and truly listening and trusting, you may just find not only some great advice, but also a significant mentor.


An Investment Worth Making

Attending college anywhere is a big decision and a big investment for students and their families. With cost of attendance being over $13,000 for Michigan residents and over $29,000 for non-Michigan residents, attending college at Michigan Technological University is a very significant decision and investment.

Like any investment, it would not be recommended that you just throw your money in a random fund and hope for the best. College can be treated the same way, in that you should be able to research the school and its outcomes to better estimate your return on investment. According to payscale.com, the average starting salary for those graduating from Michigan Tech is $62,800, the seventh highest in the nation among public universities. The Princeton Review also listed Michigan Tech in its 2016 book, “Colleges That Pay You Back.” Michigan Tech, which was among 200 schools listed in the book, was evaluated based on academics, cost, financial aid, graduation rates, student debt, alumni salaries, and job satisfaction. Continue reading