by Bob Hildreth

There is no doubt that navigating the college application and financing process is difficult. I founded Inversant and co-founded LaVida Scholars with the belief that if low-income families are provided with the information and resources they need, they can avoid taking on too much debt and choose schools/degrees with good returns. The success of these programsdemonstrates that, without good support and counseling, higher education is a risky investment and that the complexity of the system puts those who need a college degree the most at a greater financial disadvantage.

Working closely with families enrolled in our programs, I have learned that the problem is not only about lack of information. For students and parents, the process of choosing and applying to colleges, and waiting to receive acceptance letters is very emotional. It is hard for them to treat such an important milestone as a clear-cut well-calculated financial decision like they would when buying (and borrowing for) a car or a home.

When a child gets into their dream school, it is a moment of victory and no one wants to think about finance. In fact, the financial aid award letter will come long after the child announces to the world that they have been accepted and that they are going to their dream school. For a parent, it is daunting to have to explain to an 18-year-old the long-term pros and cons of borrowing $20,000 for their dream school vs borrowing $10,000 for a lesser prestigious option.

With tuition increasing steadily, borrowing has become the new normal and no amount of information will be sufficient to confidently assess the long-term implications of borrowing $35,000 for a college degree. The trends are clear — for too many, these loans do not lead to economic mobility. If anything, they lead to financial instability and a lifetime of debt.

I strongly believe that loans are not the right financial aid tool. We cannot ask our youth to gamble their futures in pursuit of higher education and social mobility.

And so the Hildreth Institutewas born. Our goal is #ZeroDebt. We need to give our young people a chance to rise and we need to give them #ZeroDebt degrees. We also need to help those who are struggling now with their student debt. We need to work together and come up with innovating solutions to zeroing current and future debt.

If you agree, come and join our movement!