Debt free is not owing any money! I wish to use this opportunity to sharing my experience as to how I made it through university without any form of loan or debt – debt free. It is often said that Education is the key, and rightly so. But the main issue facing most families is the high cost of tertiary education and there are many types of research done to support this fact.
On the brighter side, the opportunities which it affords you and your family are tremendous and we should make every effort to grasping it with both hands. According to CAPRI’s Research (2007), tertiary education is an integral part of our development and the government has put measures in place in an effort to increase affordability. I am therefore encouraging individuals to capitalise on these opportunities to further their education by utilizing the resources available.
The government is not the only institution offering assistance; there are other non-profit organsiations and private sector entities offering their support. Speaking of assistance and the high cost of tertiary education, Scholarshipjamaica and the Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission (J-TEC) contains valuable information on their website pertaining to tertiary institutions and various types of assistance – this brings me to the first lesson I’ve learned while I was on this journey:
Information is key and the onus is on your to find it.Solomon Perkins
If you wish to not read the entire epistle, here is a quick summary highlighting how I achieved my goal debt free despite the high cost of tertiary education in Jamaica:
- First reason is the Most High who guided my path.
- Benefited from the National Youth Service Program (20% of tuition for 3 years)
- Benefited from the JAMVAT Program (30% of tuition).
- Received a scholarship.
- Received support from family members.
Please note that my only intentions are to provide real proof as to how I achieved my tertiary education without the use of a loan and also to highlight a more cost effective option. If your interpretation of this content is different from the message I wish to convey, I humbly apologise for any inconvenience caused and welcome your feedback.
So let me provide some background before you start assuming that my parent(s) is/are wealthy or they started saving beforehand in preparation for tertiary education. None of the above, not even close. I grew up in the cool hills of Clarendon in a single parent household. My dad played the role of both parents, a true hero.
He is a small-scale farmer: rearing cattle and cultivating small crops for survival. Am essentially saying we survived on less than ~$300JMD per day and we had to struggle to make ends meet even though it was a single parent household.
The Debt Free Journey Begins: My Final Years at High School
Jump to my fourth year at Clarendon College High School, at this time I was almost through the gates and I started thinking seriously about attending university and my career path. By this time I had realized that my only option was to make the best of my remaining years.
Knowing that I had no capital (money) to fund my tertiary education (debt free degree), I started to research ways of funding this venture. While doing my summer job at Chapelton Public Hospital, through the National Youth Service (NYS) summer program, I learned of the NYS 20% education program. During the same time, I also heard about: JNCB scholarship program, Clarendon College Scholarship Program (your high school may offer one as well), VMBS Scholarship programs, and the popular Student Loan Bureau (SLB).
Fast forward to the end of sixth form, reality had set in, as all my friends were ready to matriculate into either UWI, NCU, Knox or Cuba University. At this point, I had gotten through to UWI and the SLB was the only option I had steering me in the face. I wanted to know the pros and cons of using this loan program so I did some research and here were some of the findings:
- Two guarantors were required (Major problem for me)
- The interest rate was 12% per annum starting from the day you signed the agreement.
- I had no guaranteed job, after my studies.
Side note: Since then, the SLB has made significant improvements: the interest rate is now at about 9% and loan payments may be done on the reducing balance.
Ok back to my story, after compounding those findings with a few calculations I realised that I will be spending the next 10-20 years, paying back a huge debt. In 2006-2007 the economy was reviving but in my neck of the woods, the only revival I knew was a church by that name.
Also living on ~$300 per day, I could not mentally justify borrowing ~$1.5million without having a solid payment plan. That lead me to also think about the possible repercussions of choosing the wrong career path and the impact on my life and not to mention my dad.
Finding the Alternative to become Debt Free
As you guess it, I turned down the SLB option, and deferred my university education for a year. I truly believed that the SLB couldn’t have been the only option available to fund my education in an effort to a debt free degree.
My decision was a lonely one, as my “mojo” got bewildered. Then the sad feeling swept over me as my friends were moving on to university and I was left behind. Even though I was stiff-headed, I forced myself in accepting the facts and looked forward to greater things.
I truly believed that there were other options of getting higher education without signing away my little freedom given to me by our national heroes (the bible also advice against debt – Proverbs 22:7)
Then came the time for action: so I went and applied to some of the financial-aid programs I had done research on. The NYS was the first program I was accepted into and in 2007 I was enrolled in their 6 months program (Thank you Lord).
Upon successful completion yielded a guaranteed 20% for 3 years on my tuition, HOORAY! As you can image, my “mojo” went through the roof as my dream started to get closer. I then applied for a HEART program called School Leavers Training Opportunity Programme (SL-TOP).
Even though they are geared towards transforming graduates into the job market, I utilized the opportunity to learn and grow while I gained invaluable insights into the working world.
The other program, which made my path brighter and increased the possibility of furthering my studies to a debt free degree was the JAMVAT program. This program offers up to 30% of your tuition on a yearly basis provided that you are qualified. This option only requires 1000 hours of voluntary service at a public institution or non-profit organisation.
By this time I had a guaranteed 20% from the NYS, and an unguaranteed 30% from JAMVAT, now I’m half way (50%) there – somewhat. I then realised that I needed some financial support from my family members. So I humbled myself and went to my uncles and aunts seeking support for the remaining capital.
After I presented my idea along with my assumed 50%, one agreed to provide me with the support I was in need of. There you have it, 100% funding with God’s help, hard work and time. This was where I learned the next lesson:
People are more willing to offer their assistance if you show proof that you’ve been working hard.
College Life and the Realities
A little side note: attending UTECH was more like visiting a first world country: expensive, beautiful and I felt misplaced but my visit was for a worthy cause.
A few weeks in my first semester, my prayers were answered, I was selected for the JAMVAT scholarship program. Now I was able to fund all of my tuition cost at least for a year (year one debt free, yeah!). My celebrations were short lived, as I then had to figure out how I’ll be funding my daily expenses.
This was the time I realised that if you really need it, your mind will find a way to achieve it. Under pressure, my mind engineered my first budget and I then found ways and means of saving and earning. Fortunately, the capital I had saved up during the SL-TOP & NYS, came to my rescue on multiple occasions, as I had to purchase the necessary tools for my studies. Friends, for that I can’t stress enough the next lesson:
Saving for a rainy day is very important.
As the years progressed and my debt free degree progressed, so was the level of difficulty. The environment became a true stress test of one’s potential – my grandmother once said: “If yuh wah good, yuh nose haffi run”. My nose was running, as by the end of my third year I was faced with another financial challenge. The NYS program only lasted for three years, this means that my 20% cushion will be no more.
At this point I really had no clue as I didn’t know what my next move was. However, it so happened that my obsession with computers and that field of study landed me a scholarship. Yes! it was so unexpected that I went on the student’s portal multiple times checking if it was an error with my financial balance. This brings me to the next major lesson:
Follow what you believe in and it will yield the results you desire.
Watching My Final Expenses
Horray! At this point, I was at the end of my four years at UTECH and every cent spent up to this point, had to be justified. Graduation was the next cash guzzler, and yes I questioned if it was a need or a want. I opted not to spend ~$19,500 on graduation ceremony ($17,000 fee + $2,500 photos shoot). Instead, I purchased a well-needed pair of shoes then I travelled home & celebrated with my father.
So that was how I made it through four years of university to my debt free degree without using the SLB program or any other form of loan. Here are some of my key takeaways:
- Hard work and dedication are the secret tactics to unlock the hidden treasures of life.
- Whatever the mind can conceive you can surely achieve.
- Despite the high cost of tertiary education, we are blessed for a couple of reasons:a. It has been heavily subsidized by the Jamaican Government – according to Gleaner, the government pays approximately 80% of your tuition b. There are multiple NGOs, scholarships, and grants available to help you on your journey – J-TEC
- Often times the first or popular option isn’t the best choice. Finding the alternative option may yield better results.
- Never let your past decide your future, only let it be a lesson.
- Your mind is a powerful tool, give it the required resources and it will engineer your success.
- Your character and attitude towards others affect their perception of you, so do good and good will follow you.
- Your success is just around the corner, you just have to be brave enough to go for it.
- We are blessed by the Most High, so give thanks always and count your blessings. Debt free degree!
Written by Solomon Perkins. Solomon is a Software Engineer, Administrator & advocate for Jamaica Cultural Alliance, and a local farmer. Always questioning the status quo in search of better alternatives. Follow Solomon on Twitter @DAlexForce and visit his website http://solomonperkins.github.io/.
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