The numbers are staggering.
According to a credit.com report, the total student loan debt in the United States is $1.52 trillion with the average student loan debt more than $30,000 per student.
While those national numbers are eye-popping, the numbers in Texas are just as bad. The state ranks behind only California for student-loan balances as students in the state have $85.4 billion in debt according to Forbes.com.
Those numbers are enough to make parents and students cringe just thinking about what life after high school could be like.
Fighting Student Loan Debt
Thankfully the Arlington ISD is being proactive in the fight against student-loan debt. Through scholarship opportunities, AVID programs, AP classes and dual credit, the district is doing all it can to try and make the task of going to college as easy as possible for students financially.
It’s not an easy task, especially in a district where there are nearly 60,000 students.
“It’s a long process,” guidance and counseling director Telisa Brown said. “It’s a partnership with the parent, student and the school. It’s really important for kids to have support systems in place because we have so many kids coming out of college with large amounts of debt.”
That’s why the Arlington ISD starts the process early, as in elementary school for some students.
Elementary students in the Lamar High School cluster in the district can be part of the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program. All 10 junior highs in the district have AVID and so does every high school. The goal of AVID is to close the opportunity gap for students and help them prepare for colleges and careers.
By the time the AVID students are in high school, part of their work is to fill out their FAFSA form and apply for scholarships. The district’s goal is to have 100 percent of seniors fill out the FAFSA form, which is required to receive any financial aid.
It’s all about giving students an opportunity.
“We’re trying to eliminate barriers for students to access college-level opportunities,” said Dr. Kim Zeske, the Arlington ISD director of advanced academics. “AVID is a great opportunity to fill some of those gaps. It can help students get ready for college. It can also help those students that maybe aren’t as ready for college get to that point.”
$45 Million in Scholarships Awarded Last Year
The proof of the AVID success is in the numbers. The Class of 2019 AVID students earned more than $19 million in scholarship money. That helps take a big bite out of potential debt.
AVID isn’t the only option for students looking to cut college costs in the district. There are now two early-college high schools that offer students a chance to graduate with their associate’s degree paid for in full, which cuts the cost of the four-year degree in half. The district also has open enrollment for AP and IB courses. Successful completion of an AP course has the potential to save on college-class costs.
The district also does what it can to make sure that when students get to college, they are prepared so the course costs don’t escalate. The district helps students graduate from high school Texas Success Initiative (TSI) complete. Students who graduate TSI complete can go straight into regular college courses. Students who are not TSI complete have to take remedial courses, which can add to the college costs.
There are also Go Centers at each high school for students to work on their college planning. And each high school campus is also staffed by a scholarship counselor.
“It’s not as difficult as one would think to get a scholarship,” said Sam Houston High School counselor Cynthia Carter. “We have so many great entities in our college and career center. You can’t really keep track of it all. We have Career Cruising that has a search engine that you type in your info and it pulls matching scholarships.”
Carter knows what she’s talking about. Sam Houston from the last graduating class earned $9.5 million in scholarship money.
That Career Cruising service is provided free for students, just like the opportunity to take SAT and ACT tests. The district now provides testing during the school day and it’s free. Scoring well on those tests also provide potential scholarship opportunities.
Each school also has scholarships that apply just to that campus and the district has a scholarship page on its site.
All the effort is paying off. Last year students in the district earned $45 million in scholarships. And the work isn’t done.
“It’s a challenge for kids to get money,” Brown said. “We’re working as hard as we can as a district to ease that burden. We’re always looking for ways to ease those financial burdens. It’s important we have those strong systems on campuses.”