Victoria College President David Hinds hates that the nation is questioning the value of a college education with the rise of student debt.

“That is terrifying to me that we are debating that as a nation,” Hinds said. “We talk about student debt and compare it to credit card debt like what we bought with our credit card is more valuable than what we bought with our student debt.”

U.S. student debt totals $1.56 trillion with the average 2018 graduate debt was $29,200, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. About 65% of 2018 seniors graduated from private and public colleges with some debt.

It is worth the struggle depending on individual circumstances and there are options to obtain a degree or certification, Hinds said to a crowded room. He presented an update on Victoria College to the Victoria Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday afternoon.

Victoria College sits in the middle of Texas community colleges in terms of cost. Students pay $100 per credit hour within the district and $150 per credit hour out of county, Hinds said. Texas is the third most affordable state in the nation for community college.

Robert Cain, Victoria Business and Education Coalition interim program director, said student loans shouldn’t be the only option students have to better their education.

“I believe it’s a misnomer as well,” said Cain, 23. “I don’t think it’s fair to force students to incur student debt. I think it puts people at a disadvantage.”

He said loans set people, especially those in underprivileged communities, back. Cain graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2018 without any debt, but he sees the value in having the option of student loans

“Education is one of the best things you can buy,” he said.

Hinds noted several options students have to mitigate that cost. The federal government offers $5 million in funds, the state offers $750,000 in grants and scholarships and last year the Victoria College Foundation awarded $1 million to students.

“Your local foundation provided more scholarships than your state,” he said.

Victoria College enrolls 8,500 students, including credit and certificate based courses, Hinds said. Not all of those students are credit students or eligible to transfer, but they are using programs the college offers.

Many people are opting out of a four-year degree and pursuing technical certifications or two-year degrees, Hinds said. That’s where Victoria College comes in.

Victoria College offers programs such as the Law Enforcement Academy, Workforce and Continuing Education program, Nursing programs and the Process Technology Program, all of which have certification and associate options. Representatives from each of those programs presented to the chamber, as well.

Police Academy Director James Martinez said the industry is evolving, and Victoria College is adapting with it and the students.

“We’ve had to change the way we do things,” Martinez said.

The academy prepares students for real-world law enforcement jobs and offers a Basic Peace Officer Certification, according to the Victoria College website.

Martinez said to help thoroughly prepare students, the program is expanding from 320 training hours to 900 hours, which is equivalent to about 18 weeks. The certification students receive allows them to find careers they can build on.

Similarly, the Workforce and Continuing Education program adjusts to work with under-served populations communities and first-generation college students, program director Sherri Paul said. The program is geared toward certifications and adult education.

“We have a wide variety of course offerings,” Paul said. “(Students are) seeking short-term training to get into the workforce.”

Many come to the program to retrain and move into a different career, she said.

“We actually trained a retired police chief for truck driving,” she said.

Samantha Douty is the education reporter at the Victoria Advocate.  She grew up in Corpus Christi and graduated from UT-Arlington with a bachelor's in journalism. 

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