A Letter To My Children About Student Debt | Jeff Bullock

A Letter to My Children About Student Debt

Originally Published by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, May 15th, 2015

Before I became President, I was the new Dean of our theological seminary. One of the first students I met was a graduate who was groaning about his student debt. After I listened to him talk about his situation I said: “I understand exactly how you feel. I’m 36 years old, and have another six years before my student loans are repaid.”

For most students, borrowing money to finance their educations is a fact of life. What is lost in the national debate is that our local colleges do a great job of providing additional financial assistance, much of which is not subsidized by an endowment. What is lost in the student debt debate is that our local colleges often provide additional financial assistance. Click To Tweet

For example, nearly 35% of the University of Dubuque’s annual operating budget is used to support students who need assistance paying for a college education—that’s over $16 million per year. The key is keeping student debt to a manageable level.

With that goal in mind, we hired a person whose singular responsibility is to work with students to manage their debt load. Every semester, students who borrow money are required to contact the financial planning office to better understand the ramifications of their debt decision.

Graduating students must meet with our personnel to establish a financial wellness plan. Our goal is to help students and families better understand their comprehensive debt picture: the amount of their monthly repayments and the advantages of loan consolidation, for example. If this sounds like fundamental money management, you’re right! But even before we prepare students for a life after college, there are a few things that should be shared with all students, and that I will share with our sons before college begins in an effort to keep their educational debt to a manageable level:

  1. This isn’t a lecture. I’m telling you these things because I care about you;
  2. Live within your means. If you have money to spend, use it for things that support your education. You don’t need the newest Beats Powerbeats2 Headphones;
  3. A college education should be hard work and not a right of passage.  Remember: each class costs approximately $60.88 every time it meets, and there are about fifteen classes per week. Do the math. The expectation that someone else will foot the bill while you have fun, make new friends and enjoy your freedom is unfounded. Your mother and I want you to have a great experience, but you’re an adult now and responsible adults carefully steward their money; A college education should be hard work and not a right of passage. Click To Tweet
  4. It’s called delayed gratification. You don’t need a new car. I know that you really liked the Aston Martin we saw in Scottsdale, but real people don’t live that way. See number 2, above;
  5. Save your summer earnings for things you’ll want to remember. Taking a trip to Europe with Professor Garfield is an investment in your education and your life. Mom and I would much rather help you experience these opportunities than get you a pair of Beats Powerbeats2 for Christmas;
  6. Meet with Mr. Munson at the beginning of every semester. He’ll help you put together a financial plan to manage your post-college life. Remember number 4, above;
  7. When you find a class to be inspiring, thank God—then remember to thank your professor. You’ve experienced the incomparable joy of learning;
  8. I wish that somebody had told me all of this when I was your age.




  1. Jeff is a great President, however. . . This is just a fluff piece for admissions or building a brand to run for office. In no way shape or form does this post address a solution for reducing debt or tuition. Saving money and living within your means doesn’t matter when your dad makes so much you don’t have to worry about debt. As a president of a University that has built or renovated over 20 buildings in 15 years to wow prospective students should practice what he preaches in terms of living within your means and tripling the schools overhead. Do students really want a nice on campus apartment or a dorm with lower tuition?

    • Ben,
      Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts. I’d obviously differ with your interpretation of this piece, but I sincerely appreciate your taking the time to write, share your thoughts, and offer your comments. Perhaps at a future date I’ll write a piece on student debt that is up to your standards. If that happens, please let me know as well!! Thanks again.

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