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Oran Hall Funding the great investment – education

Education has been and will continue to be a great life-changer for many. It is no wonder that such great effort is made to get an education as costly as it is.

Many have risen from poverty to become very successful, and there are many stories, some greatly embellished, about the depths from which many have come and the great effort made to be who they are today.

Some time ago, I had a discussion with a mother who was planning for her children’s tertiary education. She and her husband had very good jobs, and by Jamaican standards, earned decent pay. But she realised that she had to prepare well for the tertiary education of her children whose ages ranged from pre-teen to mid-teen.

She and her husband had already put aside a fair amount of the funds for that purpose. She had an idea of what her children’s education would cost in today’s dollars and recognised that she had to estimate the future value of her savings and investments and the likely gap between her resources and the cost of her children’s education. This mother also knew that she had to find a way to close the gap and some programmes from which some of the required funds could come.

One thing was very clear to her: you have to plan well for the education of your children.

The naked truth is that not many parents and children have the resources and knowledge she has and the ability to clearly determine the cost of education and how to fund any anticipated gaps.

Although taxpayers cover a meaningful share of the cost of public tertiary education in Jamaica, there is a portion that students must pay. Funding education costs a lot. Consider the cost of housing or transportation for students who do not live close to the educational institution. Add the cost of books, food, and personal expenses like laundry and toiletries. Students also wear clothes and must live a balanced life, so they must have a social life, too.

During my years at the University of the West Indies, UWI, we had access to a boarding grant from the Government, plus the Students Loan Bureau or SLB. Some students lived in neighbouring communities such as Mona Heights.

Today’s students need to borrow far more from the SLB, and though the honourable thing to do is to repay the debt, it can be a struggle for many. For one, living expenses are generally high. Many campuses provide student accommodation at a cost, but many students must live off campus, and many students at the University of Technology Jamaica and UWI now flock the more budget-friendly communities like Kintyre and Hope Tavern.

What are the approaches that have been taken to address the funding of tertiary education? For years, students have been choosing to defer their education by working for a few years before enrolling in university or college to earn and save money to cover some of their educational expenses.

I remember holiday employment, one summer working with another student on a project for a lecturer. Another summer, I worked with the Ministry of Housing at its office in southern St Andrew, which gave me an opportunity to see how differently neighbouring communities lived on account of their political affiliation.

Perhaps the public and private sectors could see how much more they can provide summer employment for deserving students.

Tough as it is, students may consider part-time employment or part-time study as has been done for many years and which still continues.

Students should check with the educational institutions for information on scholarships, bursaries, and other forms of financial assistance. Past-student associations are also a source of assistance for deserving students, but students should recognise that the onus is on them to establish from past performance that they can be trusted to justify the investment they are asking others to make in them.

The Work and Travel Programme by which growing numbers of Jamaican students travel to the United States to work over the summer has been a godsend. One beneficiary, a student of Northern Caribbean University, NCU, shared with me that what he earns over three months far exceeds what he can earn in Jamaica in that time. He shared that he earns enough to pay his school fees, pay one year’s rent, and do necessary shopping.

He rated the experience highly and particularly the opportunity to work with students from other cultures. Some students, he said, earn valuable work experience, which counts as internship. He cited the example of students pursuing courses in hospitality at NCU who work in restaurants on the Work and Travel Programme.

He mentioned that students need to have funds for the following to be able to participate in the programme: programme fee, administration fee, visa fee, air fare, and funds to cover living expenses for the time between arrival in the US and the first pay day, usually three weeks after work commences. They must meet the minimum GPA level required to enter and remain in the programme. This thus motivates them to maintain their educational standards and performance.

Students should do their due diligence before entering into any agreement with the agencies that promote this and similar programmes to assist them.

Education is life-transforming and is a superb investment but is not cheap and requires serious planning.

Oran A. Hall, author of Understanding Investments and principal author of The Handbook of Personal Financial Planning, offers personal financial planning advice and counsel. Email:

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