Justin Rummel joined Susquehanna in March as assistant vice president for student financial services, bringing a broad range of experience in higher education over an 18-year career. Most recently, he was the director of financial aid at Salisbury University, Maryland. His career began in the public sector as a research analyst for the Republican Caucus in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and as a federal policy analyst for the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.
Q: How early should families start planning to finance a college education? Any tips?
A: The earlier, the better. A variety of financial products can help families save for college, regardless of the child’s age. Education Savings Accounts allow families to save $2,000/year per child with a higher rate of return than a traditional savings account. The accounts grow tax free, and education-related withdrawals are also tax free. 529 Plans are another popular, tax-free option, and they don’t have income or contribution restrictions. Another option is a Uniform Transfer/Gifts to Minors that can be used for non-educational expenses and the account’s contributor still receives a tax benefit.
During a student’s senior year in high school, they should apply for as many scholarships as possible. Websites like fastweb.com and scholarships.com are great resources. I would also encourage students to get jobs to place funds in a savings account and get college credit during high school.
Q: Many people assume that a public university is more affordable than a private college. Are they correct?
A: That assumption is fundamentally flawed because there are many variables that come into play. The key figure to focus on is the “net price” of college, i.e., the listed cost of attendance or “sticker price,” less the institutional merit and need-based aid provided by the institution. According to the College Board, private colleges award on average 10 times more merit and need-based aid than public institutions.
Q: Student loan debt is a growing concern. What do you tell families?
A: While the rise in student loan debt has received a lot of media coverage, what gets lost in the conversation is the fact that a higher education is the best investment you can make in your lifetime. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently released a report demonstrating workers with a bachelor’s degree on average earn well over $1 million more than high school graduates during their working lives. Families should research such criteria as college graduation rates, student-faculty ratios and opportunities for internships and research. Students also should think about their intended major and how it can be applied professionally.
Q: What attracted you to Susquehanna and this region?
A: Over the last 10 years, I’ve developed my career and started a family in the Washington, D.C. area, but the Susquehanna Valley has always held a special place in my heart.