Career Cost 

Does College Have to Cost a Fortune?

Many adults without a bachelor’s degree want to go back to college, but worry about the overall affordability of student loans, according to a 2019 nationwide survey.*

The survey showed the dilemma that faces many adults who have less than a college credential. About 70 percent said they believed colleges successfully prepare adult students for the workplace, and the same percentage believe having a bachelor’s degree is important to secure a job. Roughly 60 percent have considered returning to school to complete a degree.

The majority said that finances pose a major barrier. About 75 percent of respondents said they worried about student loans and 70 percent feel unable to afford college.

And that was before the pandemic in 2020 caused unemployment and uncertainty. 

When her retail job shut down due to COVID-19, Vicki Durham was at a loss. At age 67, the Valparaiso, Indiana, resident recalls feeling “totally useless.”

So, she and her daughter started sewing masks—a task that at least kept her feeling busy and helpful—and she started thinking about her options.

End of retail career

“I loved being in retail, but when I looked at the future of retail jobs, I realized there may be fewer in the future,” Durham said. “I knew that if I wanted to find something more stable, I might have to get more schooling.”

Durham was realistic. She had some background in health sciences, having trained as a lab technician before raising children and starting her retail career. “At age 67, I wasn’t going to go back for a four-year degree,” she says. “I also wanted to work, do my job, and then go home and enjoy my family.”

She discovered her local Ivy Tech campus—just 10 minutes from her house—offered a phlebotomy program (phlebotomists collect blood for donation or for testing) that would allow her to get the training and education she needed with just 17 credit hours, a course of study that she could finish in just two semesters and begin working in the spring. She submitted the Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) and discovered that most of her costs would be covered.

“Throughout my life, there have been times that I have thought about going back to school,” she said. “It feels good to be doing it.” 

Earn a new credential 

Using this time to increase skills, knowledge and earn a new credential or start a college degree makes sense. And it definitely makes sense to finish a degree program if you’ve already started. The most expensive mistake many college students of all ages make is to start college and not finish, spending thousands of dollars and having no degree to show for your work and expense. 

As Durham discovered, financial aid isn’t just for first-time students in their teens and twenties. Take these steps to make sure you haven’t left any student financial aid on the table:

Complete the FAFSA. There is no age limit for federal student aid and applying is free at You might qualify for grants (student aid funds that do not have to be repaid; most federal grants are based on financial need); work-study (earned through a job on or near campus while you are in school); and/or loans (borrowed money, which must be paid back with interest). To apply for financial aid for the 2021-2022 academic year, complete the Indiana FAFSA by April 15, 2021, and before the federal FAFSA deadline of June 30, 2021.  

Understand the financial terms. If you’ve applied for financial aid, make sure you understand all the terms in the package. Don’t hesitate to meet with financial aid professionals at your college to ask lots of questions. See Career Ready’s list of helpful financial websites on page 30 and see the financial aid terms on the next page.

Consider a “stackable” degree as a way to control costs. Many colleges offer opportunities to break a degree down into manageable chunks—a series of certificates or credentials that, taken together, lay the basis for a larger credential or degree. Paying tuition for a two-year associate degree right now, for example, might be a struggle, but perhaps there is a one-year certificate program that can be stacked on another, getting you closer to your goal while giving you nearly instant learning and credibility. If you’re looking for a certificate program, consider the options available at

Look for scholarships. Ever hear of the Two Oaks Scholarship? One of several scholarships offered by the Central Indiana Community Foundation, the Two Oaks scholarship is a renewable scholarship given to an Ivy Tech Community College graduate who has been admitted to IUPUI and plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree dedicated to helping or serving others. It is one of thousands of scholarships available to traditional and non-traditional students every year—but you probably haven’t heard of most of them. Check with your local community foundation—all of Indiana’s 92 counties are represented by a community foundation that supports many worthy causes, including scholarships. Also check with your employer, house of worship, service clubs and neighborhood centers, too. Next, move on to some of the trusted names in scholarship searches, such as, and Log on, and start searching for free money—there are special scholarships for every kind of student, including single parents, veterans and many other special circumstances. 

*The survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults between ages 23 and 55 was conducted by Full Circle Media and Champlain College Online. 

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