Debt avoidance and inability to pay are two of the top reasons that high school graduates do not attend college. It’s difficult to obtain scholarships and grants, and few students are able to graduate without a significant debt load. As education costs increase, students are looking for alternatives to the traditional classroom, including enrollment in MOOCs like Coursera and EdX. At College of the Ozarks in Missouri, students have another option.
College of the Ozarks is an evangelical Christian school located in a rural area in southwestern Missouri near Branson. The board of the college has come up with a common-sense solution to the debt problems of their students – they do not allow students to take out loans to pay for tuition. Instead, all students are in work-study programs on campus. Ninety percent of each entering class at the college must demonstrate financial need, and because students have to earn their tuition, the school is nicknamed “Hard Work U.”
Jerry Davis, president of the private four-year school, said “We are basically just trying to look out for the students’ interests. Kids nowadays are not very sophisticated with money. Debt is a big problem all over the country.” According to College of the Ozarks website,
At College of the Ozarks, we’re looking for good students who lack the financial resources to pay for private, Christian, higher education. If you fit that bill, you might be a good candidate for admission! The mission of this unique institution focuses on providing a Christian education to those who are found worthy, from the Ozarks region, but who are without sufficient means to obtain such training. Ninety percent of each entering class must demonstrate financial need. For only ten percent of each entering class, the financial need requirement is waived.
US News and World Report rated College of the Ozarks the “best education value” among regional colleges in the midwest for 20123. In a recent article by Reuters, they report what is expected of the 1400 students at the college:
Students work part-time during the school year and most hold 40-hour per week jobs during summers to cover the cost of room and board. Some also work in nearby Branson, a major tourism draw that specializes in music and theatrical shows. Davis said the school will create more work opportunities for students who have depended on loans. They can also get jobs off-campus in summer to save up money, he said. The school will waive its $25 weekly summer dorm fee for students who work in Branson, he said.
Roughly 2/3 of American college undergraduates rely on student loans, with an average debt load over $20,000 (according to finaid.org). Americans now owe over one trillion dollars in educational loans, and delinquency rates are rising. Innovative tuition options like College of the Ozarks’ model are a positive option for eligible students to graduate without an excessive burden of educational loan debt.
“This college has a very low percentage of students graduating with debt, but it has come up a little and we just don’t think that is a good idea,” Davis said. “This a work college, not a debt college.”