Column: Choosing your Plan A or B school |

Column: Choosing your Plan A or B school

Thomas Valles is director of financial aid at Colorado Mountain College.

I hear from students fairly often that Colorado Mountain College is a good “Plan B” school. I disagree. I know, many students believe that graduating from a prestigious college will yield a better, higher-paying future, right? Seriously, would you rather graduate from the School of Mines or your local college? You probably answered Mines and I don’t blame you. However, what if I told you that there may be a better, smarter way to get the degree of your dreams?

Our state has several great educational options to choose from. Let’s say your Plan A is to attend a college on the Front Range to earn your bachelor’s degree. According to a 2016 report from the Colorado Department of Higher Education: “At Colorado public four-year institutions, 65.4 percent of students graduated with debt and the average debt was $26,259 for a bachelor’s degree recipient.” The average loan debt for a CMC graduate with a four-year degree is $18,388. That’s a savings of nearly $8,000. Add the option of living at home for two years and the savings roughly double.

By talking with a CMC financial aid specialist, you can learn if you are eligible for grants and CMC Foundation scholarships – financial aid that is given to you, and not a loan.

Right out of high school I worked for several years in a variety of low-paying jobs. I knew I eventually wanted a bachelor’s degree, but didn’t know what degree or career path was right for me. So, I started an associate degree. In two years I had earned my degree with a total loan debt of $1,000. I know costs have changed since I went to college, but the savings principle remains the same. My son and daughter have followed suit and are saving thousands by taking advantage of what I believe is a very smart choice.

Once you have an associate degree under your belt, you can proceed with a bachelor’s at CMC or transfer to the school of your choice and still reap the benefits of receiving two years of your education at a significantly reduced price. Student debt is real and there has never been a better time to look at your educational options with a long-term perspective.

I have counseled thousands of students over my years in financial aid about the risks of high debt. High debt will affect your life in ways you may not have contemplated. It can delay major decisions you may want to make in your life: like marriage, owning a home or buying a car. Today, many companies run credit checks to determine if you can demonstrate the ability to manage your personal finances.

Instead of jumping to the conclusion that a costly Plan A school is your only option, think again. You can still pursue your dream school, but be smart about it. My daughter graduated from CMC with her associate of general studies in engineering. A year from now she will be graduating from the University of Colorado with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. My son is on a similar track, only with him living at home, he will have absolutely no loan debt for his first degree and he is getting a great education.

There are so many other success stories I could tell you about of students who discovered that their Plan B was really an “A” plan all along. You owe it to yourself and your financial future to check out what an amazing bargain CMC is for students in our area. You just might be amazed at how smart a choice CMC really is.

Thomas Valles is director of financial aid at Colorado Mountain College.

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