Children First: Tips to avoid college debt

Fresno City College hits all the right notes for families looking to save money and get a quality education.

You don't have to be as talented as these students in Advanced Guitar to take care of your general ed classes at a community college. Saving money is music to the ears of parents.

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"I do definitely think about all the money that I've saved and I think it is one of the reasons why it is such a good alternative for a lot of people whether you're younger, older or if you have kids," said FCC sophomore Alexandria Ramos-O'Casey.

Alexandria will major in Communications when she transfers to Fresno State, Fullerton State or Cornell but she is also well-versed in family history when it comes to her parents' student loan debt.

"My parents didn't pay theirs off until I was maybe like 12 or 15. That's quite a lot of money right that you could put towards a childhood," Ramos-O'Casey said.

The cost of a four-year college education continues to skyrocket. Fresno City College charges $46 a unit. 36,000 students are enrolled there.

FCC President Carole Goldsmith says community college is not only more affordable but it is also the right option in many cases.

"If you could literally cut your bill in half, wouldn't you do it? I think there's more of an awakening for parents and for students to realize, 'Hey I can save my overall debt.," Goldsmith said.

And once they're enrolled, Goldsmith encourages students to take 15 units a semester so they can get their AA and transfer out.

"It's a game-changer in terms of the personal finance of our students and all too often we hear about, 'Was college really worth it for the amount of debt we have?' Right now, less than 2% of our students here take out student loans," she said.

Whether you plan to attend a local community college or Fresno State, one of the first things you want to do is fill out a FAFSA application because that determines what financial aid you may qualify for.

The process to fill out all the financial and tax information has gotten easier over the years. Workshops are held on six different campuses to help students, including dreamers, fill out the application.

"Tuition is going up all over the state so any extra money can help. It's not coming out of your pocket. The federal government is helping you pay for your college education," said Raul Maduena, Billingual Project Specialist.

The FAFSA information is used to determine eligibility not only for federal Pell grants and Cal Grants but also the state's middle-income scholarship and many others.

Fresno State Financial Aid Assistant Director Sierra Lewis says the aid can quickly add it up and cover much of a student's tuition.

"They'll get an email from CSAC letting them know, hey you've been awarded this. That comes as a nice surprise because those are fee paying awards that they might not have been expecting when they fill out a federal application," Lewis said.

If you don't fill out FAFSA you may be leaving free money on the table.
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