Is the Solution to the Student Debt Crisis Hiding in Kentucky?

Berea College has taken a novel approach for more than a century
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 3, 2019 3:33 PM CST
Updated Dec 8, 2019 2:30 PM CST
Is the Solution to the Student Debt Crisis Hiding in Kentucky?
   (Getty Images)

Could the answer to our student-debt woes be hiding rural Kentucky? Maybe, writes Holly Honderich for the BBC. And if it is, it's an answer that was arrived at in 1892. That's the year Berea College, which was founded nearly four decades prior, ceased charging tuition. Honderich explains that with the low costs it charged at its inception, the undergrad college was always intended to attract students who didn't have the funds to attend college. That holds today, with Berea President Lyle Roelofs saying as many as 80% of the school's students would have no other options in terms of securing "a high-quality educational experience"; the average family income of its incoming students is under the $30,000 mark. So what's its secret?

A mammoth endowment considering its low name recognition, for one. It currently clocks in at $1.2 billion (Brown's is about $4 billion), and the school is unwavering in its approach: Monies are only used to make campus improvements after all the tuition costs are covered; about $60 million is pulled from it yearly. The second element, explains Roelofs, is that students aren't just admitted—they're "hired." Each student must put at least 10 hours per week into a campus job. "Both the students' labor and a portion of their paycheck is used to keep the college running," explains Honderich. And the results are impressive, with 49% of the class of 2019 graduating with $0 in debt, a figure that includes room and board; the average for the remaining students was $6,693, about four times less than the national average. Read the full story for more on how Berea does it. (Read more Longform stories.)

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