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My turn: Students should consider all funding options, including loans, for college

Posted: Thursday, September 30, 2010

Interesting article ("Regents hear student and parent complaints about tuition increases" in Friday's Empire), however the one quote regarding the University of Alaska Fairbanks student who was forced to take on a Safeway job after leaving journalism studies seems to be a misleading choice of quotes based on the specific and unique state of that particular career.

The number of journalism jobs has been on the decline since I received my degree 14 years ago, whereas a student who focuses studies on nursing, for example, would likely find much more success. I don't regret focusing my studies in journalism, but even then I knew it wasn't the most reliable degree in terms of income and job opportunities. In the course of the past recent years specifically, I have seen many newspaper friends across the nation face severe cuts or lost jobs due to the decline in the newspaper industry. It was no secret in the J-school even back then that newspapers were a struggling industry and needed to make radical changes in order to weather the influence of the Internet and the changing way consumers received information.

I worked at my school newspaper but pay was paltry and I had to also work as a nanny and spend summers working long hours on the slimeline in Ketchikan to make up for it. I knew then living on that income alone was not feasible. I also knew I'd have to rely heavily on student loans, which I did, and pay for them myself, which I did. In this regard, that specific example seems to sway the balance of the story in a direction that isn't entirely accurate.

Generally I find that potential college students and their families panic with the doom and gloom scenario of tuition rates but rarely do I hear details about current student loan options. I photograph high school seniors and many don't seem to consider student loans as an option. I wonder why. Unless student loan offers have changed drastically since my academic career it should be a viable option and part of the strategy one considers when they focus on their career goals. I've always understood it to be one of the rare 'good debts' that doesn't count against you on a credit record, which means it doesn't affect your ability to obtain other debt like a mortgage or car loan for example. You also don't pay on the loans until you finish your degree or quit school.

It is a risk but one many people are willing to take to gain a valuable degree. I know having an investment in my education certainly helped me hold accountability in terms of maintaining my grade point average and seeking out academic scholarships and more job experience for my resume. I expect (partly based on my career choice) my three children may have to seek some of the same resources to supplement their education. I wish it wasn't necessary, but accept the fact it may be one of their only options, knowing how costly higher education can be. I hope I can reassure them, as my parents did, that a carefully chosen field of study is worth the investment if the student loan options are still available.

Maybe loans are no longer a good option, maybe the state programs have changed since I took advantage of them. It seems discussion of state loan programs should go hand-in-hand with tuition discussions. Can you give us more information and articles about alternative options for families who need financial assistance with their higher education?

• O'Sullivan Hines is a photographer in Juneau. She received a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Montana



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