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Reality check: The real cost of education

Families with college-bound students now have another tool in their chest to help them avoid excessive debt down the road.

The not-for-profit Iowa Student Loan Board on Monday launched its Return on College Investment Reality Check, a free online tutorial that offers students a reality check on the return on college investment, according to The Associated Press.

It allows students to evaluate whether their investment of time, money and effort into a college degree will enable them to achieve their personal financial goals.

Students can compare starting salaries for careers in their chosen majors, the future demand for those jobs and the probability they’ll get hired. Through quizzes and tips, the tutorial helps students understand the risks of over-borrowing and set realistic expectations for how much they might earn post-college and how much they can afford to borrow for their education.

“There should be a distinction made between college being attainable and college being affordable,” says Jennifer Hanniford, Dupaco Community Credit Union’s assistant vice president of interactive marketing.

“A student might be eligible for a smattering of loans to make college a reality for them, but paying that money back may be very difficult, depending on the student’s post-graduation job status, selection of major and availability of quality jobs.”

Borrowers shouldn’t lose sight of that. And the sooner families can begin to prepare for sending a student to college, the better, says Kurt Wuertzer, senior lending consultant at Dupaco. By the beginning of the student’s junior year of high school, families should be having serious conversations about prospective schools, majors and career fields – and the realistic price tag they carry.

“Use these websites. There is some good information out there, and you need to know what you’re getting into beforehand,” Wuertzer says. “The parent and the student should both be involved in this process. Sometimes parents think they have to take it all on themselves, but the student needs to understand what’s going on and be involved, too.”

For more college planning resources, visit the Iowa College Access Network.