Bob Mohrbacher Commentary: Real Solution to Student Debt Is Making College Affordable


Student debt has been in the news a lot lately. We’ve all heard and read the horror stories of students who took out federal or private loans and are now unable to get out from under the weight of those debts. With compounding interest, low wages and high housing and medical prices, many students are left in difficult financial situations decades after graduating with their degrees.

At Centralia College, we do not want that for our students. Centralia College does not participate in any federal student loan programs. We actively counsel students against taking out risky, high-interest private loans for their education. Too many private loan companies prey on vulnerable, low-income students and offer only high-interest loans that are impossible to pay off after graduating. No one should be victimized in that way and we hope the recent attention on student debt will result in regulatory changes that prevent companies from engaging in deceptive and predatory lending.

At the college level, we combat the student debt crisis by working hard to keep classes affordable. We advocate at the state level to keep tuition low. Centralia College’s tuition is one of the lowest in the state. Additionally, we offer tuition payment plans to spread costs out over the quarter. Centralia College students are eligible for all federal and state grant programs, including the recently expanded Washington College Grant, which provides guaranteed grant funding to low- and middle-income students across the state.

Our faculty also use electronic and free resources as much as possible to reduce the costs for books and study materials. We have textbook loans and rentals to provide even more lower cost options.

Students can request emergency grants to offset costs for unexpected expenses, such as vehicle repairs, childcare, or medical bills. In the last academic year (2021-22), we awarded nearly $228,000 to students through the emergency grant program. These are life-changing funds that keep students from dropping out or turning to high-interest loans.

Centralia College also participates in a number of programs that provide tuition assistance, particularly for job training programs like nursing, welding, IT, and more. These programs include Worker Retraining, which provides funding to students who are unemployed, underemployed, or work in a vulnerable industry. And, our Centralia College Foundation provides nearly $500,000 in annual scholarships to students who apply and meet minimum GPA standards.

Beyond all of these efforts, Centralia College students have access to some of the best advocates around. Centralia College staff and faculty scramble to find solutions for students who need help staying in school. I hear these stories all the time. A faculty member will have a student who can’t make their tuition this quarter, so they mobilize behind the scenes to see if a bit of funding might be available here or there to help the student. The bottom line is that we want students to succeed and to do it without crippling debt. Funding is available and we have the expertise to help students find it. Money should never keep someone from job training or a college degree, and the only long-term solution is to keep college affordable for everyone.


Bob Mohrbacher is the president of Centralia College.