SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - According to Forbes, college debt is at an all-time high.

There are a lot of things to consider, such as whether you should go to a four-year, a community college, or do you even go at all?

It's a decision that plays a role in what kind of debt you could end up with.

For students like Olivia and Liz, deciding what to do post-high school was difficult.

"It was hard to find what path I wanted to take after high school," Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) graduate Elizabeth Ryan tells us.

"I knew I was going into high school not knowing what I wanted to do," stated current STCC student Olivia Boadi.

Beyond not knowing what they wanted to do, the cost of college was intimidating.

"I didn't want to be in student debt," continued Ryan.

The cost of college is on the rise, especially here in Massachusetts.

"I really believe that," Sen. Eric Lesser tells us. "The student loan crisis is a ticking time bomb on our economy."

In a report by College Calc, they found the average in state tuition for the last year was nearly $27,000 per year.

That's over $12,000 higher than the U.S. average, putting Massachusetts  as the fourth-most expensive state to go to college in.

"To sell a student loan to someone, which could be," says Sen. Lesser. "The most important financial decision someone makes in their entire life. It's completely unregulated."

Sen. Eric Lesser believes the impact of college debt reaches far beyond four years of education, which is why he is advocating for change through a Student Loan Bill of Rights.

"The basic idea here is to," stated Sen. Lesser. "Crack down on the predatory issues in the student loan industry."

So is college worth it?

"I think," continued Sen. Lesser. "Our higher education needs to reform. It needs to be more nimble, [and] it needs to be more responsive to where the jobs actually are."

A recent study showed there are roughly thirty million jobs in the U.S. that pay an average of $55,000 per year and don't require a Bachelor's degree, while the research also shows an increase of college graduates working in non-graduate jobs.

"We need to make sure our schools are," said Sen. Lesser. "Responsive to that and are training kids to get a job after they graduate."

"This is what a $50,000 career looks like on your Associate's degree," says STCC President John Cook. "With no debt under it."

STCC President John Cook tells Western Mass News that is their goal for every student they work with.

"We are incredibly proud of our students, and," continued Cook. "Our graduates for their success. The part that I love is that it was an experience that we provided them with. Not always classroom-based. but maybe a practice or internship or connection with an employer quite frankly that helps see them through that next step."

Cook recognizes that, no matter its importance, education comes at a cost.

"The lenses to look through with all that though is," said Cook. "How much will it cost and how much debt will I accumulate?"

A lens that Olivia and Liz closely looked through before ending up at STCC, but they both agree their decision wasn't without stigma.

"There is a," says Boadi. "Stigma around it that people that go to community college aren't smart enough, [and] they didn't try hard enough in high school, but that's not true. You're making a smart decision in my opinion."

"Two year degrees are, like, less money, and," stated Ryan. "There is a stigma that you might not get into a higher paying job."

A stigma that Cook believes is changing.

"What we thought of in the past as typical," said Cook. "You graduate high school, [and] then you go to a bachelor-like institution. I think all of that now is being revisited."

He says Massachusetts has somewhere close to 100,000 students currently enrolled in community colleges.

"You can potentially," added Cook. "Leave with an Associate's degree at $12,000. Then, the sky is the limit."

"Don't feel that," says Ryan. "Choosing a tech school or a two-year degree is opting out of a better education. I am still going for a four-year degree now. I am just building off the degree I already have."

Western Mass News did reach out to some four-year universities in our area, regarding student debt, but never heard back.

Copyright 2019 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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