Recent reports said student loan debt has surpassed credit card debt in the United States and some believe it will only get worse.
Students at one eastern Kentucky college said they are not concerned about paying for their private higher education tuition.
Alice Lloyd is one of very few colleges in the country where students basically do not have to pay for their tuition. Administrators said it is tough to get in, and it is getting tougher.
“If we get in, how are we going to pay for it?” said Alice Lloyd College Senior Trista Hibbitts, when thinking about when she applied to larger schools with her friends at Leslie County High School back in 2009.
Hibbitts said that is one question students at Alice Lloyd did not have to ask and that is one of the many reasons she decided to attend the school. Another senior who went to Knott County Central High School echoed the same sentiment. He said he did not want to end up like his former classmates who chose other institutions and allowed their debt to grow.
“I know several friends that are $40,000 plus in debt at careers that they are not going to be getting an advanced degree,” said ALC Senior Cody Johnson.
The private school is one of seven "work colleges" in the nation which allow students to get a job on campus to finance part of the cost. The students work for part of their tuition and the rest is paid for by fundraising and independent donations from institutions and individuals across the country.
Officials said the competition is high.
“We are actually tied for second nationally for most selective school in the country,” said Vice President Jim Stepp.
“Seven percent of our students who apply are actually admitted here.”
Stepp said they received “well over 3,000 applicants this year for less than 200 spots.”
Those who live in 108 Appalachian counties are eligible for the “guaranteed tuition” which pays for 100 percent of their undergraduate education. Stepp said they hoped to keep the locals in eastern Kentucky because he believed it would be beneficial to the economy.
“We only have about one half the number of college graduates in eastern Kentucky that you have in the rest of the state. we have more than double the poverty level,” said Stepp.
Step said he could not stress enough about the importance of attaining higher education especially within the Appalachian region.
“All the studies show that when you look at the economy of a region, the higher the percentage you have of students with college level degrees, the lower the poverty level is,” Stepp said.
Stepp said they have been providing tuition-free education since the college was founded by Alice Geddes Lloyd and June Buchanan in 1923 as the “Caney Junior College.” The Vice President said they want to continue to provide this opportunity to students, especially with the current state of the economy.
“Student debt, it’s an epidemic,” said Stepp.
“We are so blessed to be able to do this.”
Johnson said as a biology/pre-pharmacy major he planned on attending the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy and was even eligible for graduate scholarships through the “Caney” program at the school.
Some said it will make a big difference in their future.
“When I go to grad school, I will have to take out student loans, but it is kind of comforting knowing that I am going into that debt-free,” said Senior Ashley Deaton.
Deaton planned on applying to the U of K College of Pharmacy and also wanted to apply for graduate scholarships ALC offered to those seeking to continue their education.
Hibbitts said she felt “very blessed” to not have to worry about paying back money she will "not be making a lot of" in the teaching profession.
“To be able to say ‘oh I am going to graduate with little to no debt whatsoever,’ it is a great burden lifted off of my shoulders,” said Hibbitts.
The seven "work colleges" recognized by the federal government include Alice Lloyd College, Berea College, Blackburn College, College of the Ozarks , Ecclesia College, Sterling College and Warren Wilson College.
Alice Lloyd and Berea colleges are two of only three in the nation who guarantee tuition for their students. Those who live on campus do have to pay for their room and board.