How to Minimize College Debt

How to Minimize College Debt
  • Opening Intro -

    If you think that succeeding in college is all about being smart, think again.

    Without well developed self-management skills, even extremely smart students won’t graduate on time, substantially driving up college debt, according to Dr. Bob Neuman, former dean of academic development at Marquette University.


What kind of self-management abilities? Succeeding in college depends on being well-organized, knowing how to work, learn independently, and use time productively, to name a few. Neuman speaks from long experience. For more than 25 years, he worked one-on-one with thousands of students, many struggling despite their excellent high school grades.

“The overwhelming size of college debt is well-known, but parents of middle and high school students need to know about the hidden costs that worsen that debt. Once families understand what’s wrong, they can take steps at home to head it off. It’s a process that should begin early,” Neuman says. The problem is real. He points to the national graduation rates.

Grim statistics

Families don’t expect high school graduates with excellent grades to encounter major problems in college. Yet nearly 70% of college students take longer than four years to complete a four-year degree. Astonishingly, nearly 40% still haven’t graduated after six years, having added 50% to their debt.

The plain fact is that college is currently beyond the “study and personal capabilities” of most students, even those who earned great grades in high school. That’s why Neuman contends success requires more than being smart, “College-bound students must develop solid strategies to learn independently and manage time, themselves, and their workload. If teens can do that, excellent grades are pretty much a sure thing.”

Parents can head-off problems plaguing the majority of college students by nurturing self-management skills at home and starting early, using middle school, and certainly high school, as training grounds.

How the dominoes fall

As an example, Neuman illustrates what happens when only one self-management skill, managing time, is weak:

College gives students many blocks of unstructured time for independent study. But students waste much of it, yielding to daily temptations and distractions.

Study time disappears.

Yet colleges require 30 to 40 hours of study a week. Studies show the majority of college-bound high school seniors study fewer than six hours a week. College isn’t 13th grade. Six hours won’t cut it.

Consequently, students quickly fall behind in classes, so they cram for tests as they did in high school. Cramming fails; there’s too much to know.

Students end up dropping courses, changing majors, adding extra years, and creating more problems, not to mention debt. But time management is only one of several self-management reasons students fail to graduate on time.

Neuman says “Students don’t know they have serious problems. Even if they did, they wouldn’t know how to ‘fix’ them on their own.”

How to start early

Neuman says parents should intervene by talking often with teens and pre-teens to help them “look ahead,” and “get ready.” Let them know that college expects independent learners, that students are failing to graduate because they can’t control their work and time, and that college is a very expensive seriously affecting the family financially. Then get committed at home to develop good daily self-management practices.

To aid the effort, Neuman has written a book, Are You Really Ready For College? A College Dean’s 12 Secrets for Success. It’s a guide for parents and teens to practice winning strategies in middle and high school. The book is available only online: at Amazon, other online booksellers, and at

Neuman suggests some “beginner” strategies to help get your student thinking about one skill, managing time, a hard, but necessary, task for young people:

  1. Explain that learning is an outside-of-class responsibility. Talk about “study” rather than “homework. Your teen should study every subject every day, whether or not there’s “homework.” There’s plenty to do: study to really learn the material, review/reorganize notes, or preview tomorrow’s lesson.
  2. Study get squeezed out? Pushed to the end of the day when teens are tired? Together, take control and make study a priority. Use a daily planner to map our quiet daily study times. Also include time for sports, lessons, etc. Don’t let teens over-schedule.
  3. Regard the schedule as sacred. Stick to it to create a habit.
  4. Set reasonable limits on electronic/cyber distractions. They consume enormous amounts of time. Together, agree to no digital distractions during study times.

The stakes are high, and recognizing that serious problems exist in college is half the battle. Parents must help guide their teens to make good daily decisions, acquire self-management habits, and understand what real study is.

If teens’ study techniques haven’t matured since 6th grade, they literally won’t make the grade in college. Neuman’s book shows teens and parents how to head-off added college debt.

Author Information

Robert Neuman, Ph.D., spent 25 years as dean of academic development at Marquette University, working one-one-one with thousands of students, many in academic trouble despite excellent high school grades. He knows where students go wrong and how to prevent these all-too-common mistakes. In his book, Are You Really Ready for College? A College Dean’s 12 Secrets for Success, “Dr. Bob” shows teens and parents how to practice in high school to succeed in college. To learn more, go to The book can be ordered at this web site at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or other online booksellers.


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Categories: Personal Advice