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Lower-Priced Colleges Offer Options to Student Debt

FILE - Students walk across campus at the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vt. Federal statistics show 43 million people in the United States owe federal student loan debt.

This story was first reported in VOA Learning English.

As tuition and fees have increased sharply in the U.S. over the past 30 years, schools are looking for ways to make college and university more affordable.

Between 1990 and 2012 while college enrollment increased 62 percent, the volume of borrowing for school increased 352 percent, according to the Heritage Foundation. By the end of 2017, according to the Federal Reserve Bank, national student loan debt in the United States was $1.48 trillion.

One popular option is community college. These schools offer a two-year study program that awards an associate’s degree at a cost vastly less expensive than four-year schools. Those credits are typically transferrable to a four-year college or university where a student can achieve a bachelor’s degree.

Some four-year colleges and universities, often public institutions, offer free tuition but ask students to pay for room and board, like housing and food. Books and other school supplies may also be the responsibility of the students, which may add up to an unaffordable package of schools costs from some students.

Some colleges exchange part-time work on campus for lowered tuition and fees.

Berea College in rural Kentucky, does not charge tuition. The school looks for students who would otherwise struggle to pay for college.

“You have to be economically disadvantaged to get in,” Richard Cahill told VOA. He is a history professor and Director of the Center for International Education at Berea.

“We try to take the brightest of economically disadvantaged students to give them a world-class education,” he said.

The college has a history of helping people who have less since 1855. It was started by the Rev. John G. Fee, who opposed slavery. From its beginning, black and white students, male and female, studied together.

Now, there are 1,600 students, and more than 25 percent are black. 7 percent international students from over 70 countries. And "30 foreign students from 3,000 who begin their applications."

Now, there are 1,600 students. Forty percent of Berea College’s student body identifies as a person of color, according to its website and Cahill says nearly 25 percent are African-American, 10 percent are Hispanic and 7 percent international students, representing more than 70 countries.Cahill says every year the school accepts 30 of 3,000 foreign students who compete for admission online. Students work 10 to 20 hours a week on the Berea campus, to pay for room and board and books.

Other four-year colleges where international students can be part of a work program to cover all or part of their tuition include:

· College of the Ozarks — also known as “Hard Work U.” This Christian school near Branson, Missouri, admits a small number of international students. Every student works 15 hours a week, and two 40-hour work weeks a year to cover the cost of tuition.

· Warren Wilson College is a small liberal arts college near Asheville, North Carolina, with just under 700 students. Students work on campus and earn over $2,000 toward tuition. Depending on financial needs, international students may get full-tuition paid by a program called Milepost One, or other scholarships. The campus includes a 300-acre farm where students work and grow food served on campus.

· Barclay College is a smaller school with a few foreign students in rural Haviland, Kansas, a Midwest state. It is a small Christian liberal arts school with only 170 students. Director of Admissions Justin Kendall told VOA they offer free tuition to boost enrollment, and students are responsible for about $16,000 a year for room and board. Donors help make up the difference at the school. Kendall said, “they love the college, and what we’re doing here.” He says foreign students do “really, really well” there because of the small size. “They get a lot of personal attention here.”

· Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia offers free tuition. The school “highly values a diverse international student body,” according to its website. Musicians from 20 countries make up nearly 40 percent of the students. The school requires an audition and admits very few students.

Service academies

U.S. military academies –- also called service academies because graduates must serve in the Navy or Marines after graduation -- are technically free and even offer a stipend to students that increases as they rise in grade. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point is the oldest of the military colleges, dating back to 1802. The U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) was founded in 1845 and is known as Annapolis, in Maryland where it is located. The Coast Guard and Air Force academies are younger, established in 1930 in New London, Connecticut, and 1945 in Colorado, respectively.

But admission rates are extremely low, meaning these service academies are highly selective, requiring applicants to show not only excellent grades and test scores, but exemplary community service and recommendations from elected lawmakers.

The service academies offer slots to international students, but they are selected and sponsored by their home country governments, and be between the ages of 17 and 22 to be considered for admission. The countries are selected by the U.S. State Department and Department of Defense. West Point says American embassies ask each invited nation to nominate up to six candidates to compete for admission to the school.

West Point’s website says up to 60 international students may study at the academy at a time. The same is true for the U.S. Air Force Academy and U.S. Naval Academy. The U.S. Coast Guard Academy also admits international students.

West Point spokesman Frank DeMaro Jr. told VOA that the most recent class has students from 14 countries, including Colombia, the Gambia, Jordan, Rwanda and Thailand. After graduation, he says, they return to their countries and serve as officers in their armed forces. Graduates of U.S. service academies are expected to serve in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard on active duty after graduation.

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It’s Graduation Season – Who Might Speak at Yours?

Honorary degree recipient actor Tom Hanks walks between graduating students during Harvard University’s 372nd Commencement Exercises in Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 25, 2023.

U.S. graduation ceremonies usually feature a public figure who offers advice to young people starting their careers. This spring, graduates have heard from President Joe Biden, actor Tom Hanks, Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa and even Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who became the youngest prime minister in the world at age 34, told her audience that change cannot wait, even at their age. “To change things,” she said, “you have to take over.”

Read the story from Dan Friedell of VOA Learning English. (May 2023)

What Did Justin, a Golden Retriever Mix, Do to Earn a Diploma?

FILE - Dozens of golden retrievers gather with their owners, and some other breeds, to pose for photos and play together in Boston, Massachusetts, on April 16, 2023.

Justin is a service dog and accompanied his owner (who graduated with honors) to every single class for four years. The student’s university honored the dog’s hard work with his very own diploma, which he accepted, tail wagging, in front a cheering stadium of other graduates.

See Justin’s walk across the stage in this story from Bill Chappell of NPR. (May 2023)

What Are US Diplomats Doing to Further International Education?

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks in Denver, Colorado, April 28, 2023.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken touted his department’s achievements in a recent address to NAFSA: Association of International Educators. The State Department has relaxed student visa and study abroad requirements. In fact, it issued over a half-million student visas last year – the highest number in five years. Blinken, who spent part of his childhood in France, thanked educators for “helping us to see the world through another’s eyes.”

Watch his remarks in this press release from the State Department. (May 2023)

Soon-to-Be Graduates Put COVID Behind Them

Soon-to-Be Graduates Put COVID Behind Them
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During the COVID-19 pandemic, learning lagged for students around the world, including the U.S., where many had access to online learning. Now these soon-to-be graduates say they are behind in certain subjects because of time missed at school. VOA’s Laurel Bowman sat down with high school seniors on the cusp of graduation. Camera: Adam Greenbaum, Saqib Ul Islam.

Former US Congresswoman Liz Cheney Urges Graduates Not to Compromise With the Truth

Former U.S. Congresswoman Liz Cheney, a Republican who represented Wyoming, delivers the commencement address at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, May 28, 2023.

Former U.S. Congresswoman Liz Cheney implored new college graduates to not compromise when it comes to the truth, excoriating her House Republican colleagues for not doing enough to combat former President Donald Trump's lies that the 2020 election was stolen.

In a commencement speech at Colorado College, the Wyoming Republican repeated her fierce criticisms of Trump but steered clear of talking about his 2024 reelection campaign or her own political future.

Cheney, who graduated from Colorado College in 1988, recalled being a political science student walking into a campus building where a Bible verse was inscribed above the entrance that read, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."

"After the 2020 election and the attack of January 6th, my fellow Republicans wanted me to lie. They wanted me to say the 2020 election was stolen, the attack of January 6th wasn't a big deal, and Donald Trump wasn't dangerous," Cheney said Sunday in Colorado Springs, connecting her experiences as a student to her work in the U.S. House of Representatives. "I had to choose between lying and losing my position in House leadership."

In three terms in office, Cheney rose to the No. 3 GOP leadership position in the House, a job she lost after voting to impeach Trump for the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol and then not relenting in her criticism of the former president.

Cheney's speech touched on themes similar to those she has promoted since leaving office in January: addressing her work on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol and standing up to the threat she believes Trump poses to democracy. She also encouraged more women to run for office and criticized one of the election-denying attorneys who worked for Trump after the 2020 election for recent remarks about college students voting.

"Cleta Mitchell, an election denier and adviser to former President Trump, told a gathering of Republicans recently that it is crucially important to make sure that college students don't vote," Cheney said. "Those who are trying to unravel the foundations of our republic, who are threatening the rule of law and the sanctity of our elections, know they can't succeed if you vote."

In an audio recording of Mitchell's presentation from a recent Republican National Committee retreat, she warns of polling places on college campuses and the ease of voting as potential problems, The Washington Post reported.

Most students and parents in the audience applauded throughout Cheney's remarks, yet some booed. Some students opposing the choice of Cheney as speaker turned their chairs away from the stage as she spoke.

Cheney's busy speaking schedule and subject matter have fueled speculation about whether she may enter the 2024 GOP presidential primary since she left office. Candidates ranging from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley have calibrated their remarks about Trump, aiming to counter his attacks without alienating the supporters that won him the White House seven years ago.

Though some have offered measured criticisms, no declared or potential challenger has embraced anti-Trump messaging to the same extent as Cheney. She did not reference her plans on Sunday but has previously said she remains undecided about whether she wants to run for president.

Though she would face an uphill battle, Cheney's fierce anti-Trump stance and her role as vice chairwoman of the House committee elevated her platform high enough to call on a national network of donors and Trump critics to support a White House run.

A super PAC organized to support of her candidacy has remained active, including purchasing attack ads on New Hampshire airwaves against Trump this month.

After leaving office and being replaced by a Trump-backed Republican who defeated her in last year's primary, Cheney was appointed to a professorship at the University of Virginia and wrote "Oath and Honor," a memoir scheduled to hit shelves in November.

Two of Cheney's five children as well as her mother are also graduates of the liberal arts college.

Cheney's speaking tour appears to be picking up. She is scheduled to appear Thursday at the Mackinac Policy Conference in Michigan.

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