College of DuPage offers academic excellence and affordability

The skyrocketing cost of higher education should surprise no one at this point. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the cost of education when adjusted for inflation has nearly doubled since 1990. During this time, student loan debt has increased more than 700%.

What is surprising is the number of people who are still willing to go into debt when more affordable options are available.

As the former chief financial officer for the City of Aurora and College of DuPage, I understand the importance of finishing college either debt-free or with as little debt as possible.

Paying off student loans for decades can delay or deny opportunities such as homeownership, starting a family, or planning for retirement.

With the start of a new academic year quickly approaching, I urge people to consider enrolling at College of DuPage.

Community colleges offer affordable tuition while providing a high-quality education that can lead graduates directly into the workforce or to four-year institutions through seamless transfer opportunities.

The cost of tuition at College of DuPage makes higher education easily accessible. Our in-district tuition is only $144 per credit hour for most courses. Also, financial assistance may be available.

For example, the College of DuPage Foundation offers scholarships to current students every year, with applications accepted during the fall and spring semesters.

Scholarships are available in a variety of categories, from program-specific to special populations such as first-generation students.

These awards often make it possible for students to continue their education rather than step away due to financial concerns.

Other scholarship opportunities include the STEM Student Success Scholarship, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, and the COD Succeeds Scholarship for students who may not have qualified for other monetary assistance awards.

Veterans can work with our Veterans Services office to pursue available funding.

Students can also receive funding through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, a federally funded program that provides a training grant to qualified applicants.

More than 150 COD programs are approved for funding in areas such as health care, computer and information technology, computer and information science, and management.

Many outside organizations offer scholarships for a wide variety of student populations. Faculty and staff are great resources and may know of regional or national organizations that provide educational funds for qualified students.

For students who want to transfer and continue their studies, the college partners with several prestigious four-year universities on the innovative 3+1 programs. Students spend three years at COD and then a fourth year taking partner university classes on COD's campus at a reduced tuition rate. Students finish with associate and bachelor's degrees.

The college also has forged many 2+2 agreements across a wide array of academic disciplines that provide seamless transfer to partner institutions.

These agreements can lead to additional scholarships and other opportunities that can help ease the debt of college.

If you must take out a loan, borrow only what you need. Understand when repayment will begin and how much your payments will be.

Knowing ahead of time will help you plan for the long-term and minimize the impact on your finances.

Before becoming president of College of DuPage, I knew of its academic excellence and affordability, and all three of my children attended College of DuPage.

I am gratified when our students talk about the financial benefits of attending College of DuPage and the high quality of education they are receiving.

As the national discussion on educational debt continues, community colleges are cost-effective options that can relieve or greatly diminish the burden of student loans.

College of DuPage is your community college and can help you be fiscally responsibly and succeed in the classroom.

• Brian Caputo is the president of the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.

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