UPDATED February 22th, 2018

There are 1.8 million Latino students in college according to a new study recently released by the Pew Hispanic Center. The blogosphere is abuzz with good feelings about how these students are building good lives for themselves and preparing to enter the job market with necessary skills, but I haven’t heard a peep about what it costs to aspire to the first step in achieving the American dream.

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With 1.8 million Latino students attending college now, this means about 32% of our population will be earning college degrees. That sounds wonderful until you consider that 58% of Latino students graduate with unmanageable student loan debt, defined as debt payments of more than 8% of income, according to the Department of Education’s National Postsecondary Student Aid. The article Who Borrows Most?: Bachelor’s Degree Recipients With High Levels of Student Debt reports that 25% of all college students who earn a degree graduate with at least $24,600 in debt. Another 10% graduate with at least $39,300 in debt. The College Board says average debt is closer to $27,650, but that figure can balloon up to $100,000 due to interest and late payment penalties.

Of course graduating from college is one way to earn a living above the poverty wage, but you don’t want to mortgage any chance of being financially stable because of it. According to the 2002 U.S. Census, high school graduates earn $25,900 per year and a college graduate earns $45,400 per year. That difference adds up to about $1,000,000 over the lifetime of the average worker.

If you’re considering a degree or advanced degree, or if you are helping your child plan for college, I’ve compiled a few tips if you’d like to have the degree without the debt:

  • Do it now. Start researching scholarships and grants as soon as you consider attending college. Some scholarships and grants are available to elementary students.
  • Know what you’re getting into. It’s important to know the costs for tuition, books, dorms, etc. and to know how much grants will cover and how much you might have to borrow. Knowing those numbers might help you choose between one college and another with better costs.
  • Take what you need. Financial aid may offer you loans to cover things like transportation and dorm fees that you may or may not need. Resist the temptation to sign on the dotted line and take out more money in loans than you need.
  • Work smarter. Some career fields, like teaching, offer to pay off a portion of your student loans over time. Take advantage of programs available to you.

Congratulations to all the students in college now and those soon to be attending. Graduating from college is a wonderful achievement and my hope is that you (if you’re returning to school) and your children can graduate without a massive amount of student loan debt. If you know of any other tips to keep college costs low, please share them in the comments section.