How to graduate debt free from college

Published July 21 2020

A college degree is often considered the foundation of a successful career. In the midst of a pandemic and in an unstable economy, it is critical that students continue their education by earning workforce credentials or a college degree, without the burden of loans that can shackle graduates for decades.

The coronavirus is a thief that has stolen from us all. Loss of income, our quality of life, and, tragically, life itself. While most teens are not physically impacted by COVID-19, the psychological toll exacted upon our youth should not be dismissed. The 2020 high school graduating class forfeited time-honored traditions that will never be recaptured. Much-anticipated proms, senior awards banquets, traditional graduation ceremonies and celebrations with family and friends never happened. Now, college plans, too, often hang in the balance as parents, many financially strapped, anxiously monitor COVID-19 statistics.

Dr. Rao Musunuru [ Provided ]

With the fall 2020 semester fast approaching, online-only college courses may be an unwelcome reality for many students. Taking virtual classes while confined to a college dormitory strays far from the ideal college experience. Still, now is the time to pursue an education. Degree-holding, skilled graduates will secure better positions when COVID-19 is controlled and the economy rebounds. Those who wisely earn credentials during these dull days of social distancing and quarantines will be ready when opportunity knocks.

Debt-free college may seem like fodder for political debates, when, indeed, graduating with a clean financial slate is a reality for thousands of students -- especially those who attend Florida College System (FCS) institutions. Pasco-Hernando State College (PHSC) and our 27 partner institutions can accommodate virtually any career path or academic goal.

I’ve been a PHSC Trustee for more than two decades, and our graduates never cease to amaze me. Counted among our alumni are a Pulitzer prize winning reporter, a twenty-something CEO building a multi-media empire, in addition to senators, authors, doctors, teachers, lawyers, nurses, welders, dental hygienists, IT professionals and law enforcement officers. Currently, 733,000 students are enrolled in Florida’s state colleges and successful FCS grads represent virtually every profession


College Cost Saving Options

Dual Enrollment: Articulation agreements between colleges and school districts statewide allow students to earn high school and college credits simultaneously at no cost to parents.

Bright Futures/Florida State Aid: Students may qualify for one of four levels of aid through Bright Futures, with the top tier providing tuition reimbursement at 100 percent, plus funds for textbooks.

Pell Grant: Many students are unaware that maximum funding may be available -- that does not have to be repaid.

Foundation Scholarships: FCS Foundations provide millions in scholarship dollars annually. Apply, and you may be pleasantly surprised!

Work-Study: Students can work at FCS colleges, earning job experience scheduled conveniently around classes.

Veteran Benefits: Veteran and military family members may qualify for Veterans Education benefits. Seek assistance from an FCS veteran’s office.

Earn As You Learn: “Stackable credentials” allow students to earn college certificates that transfer to Associate in Science degrees and beyond-- building resumes and confidence as credits are acquired and program requirements are met.

FAFSFA First: High school guidance counselors and college financial aid advisors can help. Regardless of income, financial aid and scholarships rest on the completion of this form.


Convenience, quality instruction by credentialed instructors, smaller classes, free student support services and countless opportunities to engage with other students through clubs, organizations and athletics are reasons to consider our acclaimed FCS institutions. An added benefit is the opportunity to live safely at home, without the expense of campus housing, meal plans and parking fees.

Is it possible to graduate from college debt-free? The answer is closer than you think.

Learn more about Florida’s Great 28 State Colleges at

Dr. Rao Musunuru, a nationally recognized cardiologist, has been continually serving as a member of the Board of Trustees for PHSC since 1999. He is the recipient of the 2013 Southern Regional Trustee Leadership Award from the National Association of Community College Trustees.

This article was originally published in the Tampa Bay Times:

Rao Musunuru, M.D. Mini Bio

Dr. Rao Musunuru, who has called Pasco County his home since 1981, was instrumental in transforming a 50-bed rural hospital into a 290-bed Heart Institute at Bayonet Point/Hudson Regional Medical Center. He has received numerous awards and continually serves the community at large through education and philanthropy.