Woodside resident finds path to debt-free degree at LaGuardia Community College

Woodside resident Nicholas “Nico” Figueroa chose LaGuardia Community College over a four-year school he was going to attend so he could graduate debt-free. (Photo courtesy of LaGuardia Community College)

Financial insecurity will follow many of the more than 2,500 new students, both freshmen and transfers, joining LaGuardia Community College for the fall 2021 semester. Many could benefit by taking a page or two from Nicholas “Nico” Figueroa playbook on how to finish college debt-free.

Woodside resident Figueroa has a goal of finishing his bachelor’s degree without any student loan debt.

“I’ve seen first-hand how personal debt from credit cards and other loans negatively impacts people’s lives,” Figueroa said. “Taking out student loans for college sounds easy but there’s always a catch. And I don’t want to take money that doesn’t belong to me.”

Students who take out loans to attend private colleges are often shocked when they realize that they end up owing much more than the amount they originally borrowed, because of interest charges and other fees. So, when Figueroa learned that he wouldn’t be receiving any financial aid from the four-year college he’d planned to attend after graduating from Long Island City’s Bryant High School, he said it was a “big reality check.”

Figueroa was told that his parents made too much for him to qualify for grants — funds that don’t need to be repaid — so he decided to attend LaGuardia Community College, where he could get started on his college education without taking on debt.

“With many different programs to help New Yorkers struggling financially because of the COVID-19 pandemic, to get started on their college degree or pick up where they left off, it has become even more affordable to earn a degree at LaGuardia Community College,” LaGuardia President Kenneth Adams said. “In addition to helping pay for tuition, fees and textbooks, we have new scholarships and support programs to assist students in paying their rent and household expenses.”

(Photo courtesy of LaGuardia Community College)

More than 33,000 New Yorkers choose LaGuardia Community College every year. Full-time tuition for a New York City resident is $4,800 per year. In comparison, some New York City colleges charge upwards of $60,000 per year.

At LaGuardia, Figueroa joined the college’s ASAP program, which helped him pay for tuition, provided money for textbooks and free MetroCards, and connected him with an adviser to help guide him along his path. After a few semesters, Figueroa was accepted into the President’s Society Environment, LaGuardia’s leadership program for high-achieving students interested in the environment, where he earned a stipend. He was also able to keep the part-time job he’s held since age 16, working as a game technician at Chuck E. Cheese.

In June, Figueroa graduated debt-free from LaGuardia with his associate degree in communications. Due to LaGuardia’s low tuition and many programs to help students offset tuition costs and expenses, 95% of LaGuardia graduates have no student loan debt.

Figueroa is currently determined where he will transfer to complete work on his bachelor’s degree, once he finishes sorting out financial aid packages. Ultimately he plans to get into the media or broadcast industry.

To learn more about scholarships and financial aid offered at Laguardia Community College, visit laguardia.edu.

Fall ‘21 classes started on Sept. 9, but because of LaGuardia’s flexible schedule, students can start college whenever they are ready. Students who want to attend in-person classes will have to be fully vaccinated, per CUNY policy.