Students attending the Pittsburg Institute of Aeronautics (PIA) typify the opportunities of advanced education and the challenges of our times. Forbes ranked PIA as the nation’s top two-year trade school in 2018, and the median salary ten years after school was about $57,200. However, graduating students are stuck in a holding pattern until the campuses reopen. Not all courses can transition to online lessons – rebuilding aircraft engines in the “Advanced Powerplant” course require hands-on lab work. There’s been a massive shortage of aircraft technicians and hopefully, the industry isn’t cursed long-term. Meanwhile the students are on a bumpy flight – they have jobs on hold and are sweating to pay rent.
This column – the second in a series of three – focuses on planning challenges and opportunities for students. As Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” And if figuring out your purpose in life isn’t difficult enough, COVID-19 has thrown a curve ball. The Class of 2020 has had some major challenges this year. Nevertheless, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Much is in flux with the coming academic year including when your campus will reopen and what to do about housing. New and returning college students should consider the following:
- Understand refund policies – Most colleges refunded a portion of room and board fees when they closed their doors. According to a survey of 100 colleges by Savingforcollege.com, 70 issued cash refunds, 20 offered credits or vouchers and the rest didn’t disclose. Few offered refunds on tuition deposits despite no in-person classes.
- Financial aid appeal – Contact your school to review. Professional judgement requests consider new information for award adjustments. Your financial situation (or that of your folks) may have changed – your FAFSA may have been based on your financial situation in 2018 or 2019.
- Ask about emergency grants – Your college may offer funds. The CARES Act, a recently enacted relief program, gave $12 billion to colleges to give back to students.
- Be prepared to pivot – Is it time to consider plan B or C? Some object to $50,000 for an online college experience (closures are likely temporary). However, financial situations may have changed, and some may prefer to be closer to home. Thus, consider less expensive in-state schools or two-year colleges. This may be a popular gap year.
- Be cautious about borrowing – Around 10 percent of student debt is past due or in default per a 2018 Federal Reserve study. If debt’s a must, consider Federally backed loans with fixed rates and more flexible repayment terms (versus private loans).
You’re entering a tough job market. The U.S. economy and employment have taken sharp hits from efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. The worst of our economic decline is expected this quarter, then gradually recover as Americans get back to school and work, and medicines, mass testing and ultimately immunity are achieved.
- Be flexible and open-minded. You might not get your dream job right out of college and one opportunity might be used as a stepstone to another. Sacrificing today can lead to more options in the future. You might also want to consider going back to school.
- Better you fall on your face now, then five years later when responsibilities may be greater (e.g. family or career) or five years prior to retirement. If you can, take this time to build emergency reserves, try spending less than you make, and join professional networks.
It’s also important to know how to manage stress in your life. School is important but don’t forget to take care of yourself.
- Maintain a routine balanced with organization, study, activity and virtual social gatherings.
- Rewire your brain to learn or manage a new grading structure with online discussions and assignments.
- Use resources available at school, health professionals, mentors and networks.
- Embrace the imperfections. You can plan but you cannot control everything.
Suzanne Markle, President and CEO of PIA expects her trade school and students to survive and rebound. “The key to America bouncing back is us digging our heels in, being brave and staying the course.” May your future be bright, and you secure it wisely. Congratulations Class of 2020!
This article can also be viewed in the Reno Gazette Journal.