Upper St. Clair Township Library

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Upper St. Clair Township Library

Nearly four decades ago, Indiana University of Pennsylvania made several lists of the nation’s best colleges for the money, with its full-time tuition of about $450 per semester a heavily contributing factor.

Today, a glance at IUP’s website shows tuition and mandatory fees totaling $502.20.

That’s per credit. And it remains a comparative bargain.

Inflation, of course, has caused the price of practically everything to rise significantly since 1980. But the price of attending four-year colleges continually seems to outpace practically everything.

Library specialist Sheri Huffman can empathize, particularly after a recent conversation with an Upper St. Clair Township Library co-worker.

“She was saying her daughter was so frustrated,” Huffman said. “She did the whole four-year college. She has a job. But she can’t even afford to get an apartment because all of her money is going to student loans, and you can’t back those down for a couple of years, until you’ve proved that you can pay some of it.”

Stories similar to the young woman’s echo throughout a country wracked with recent graduates’ debt. And Huffman wants to provide guidance for those who want to continue their education, but avoid that type of financial headache.

A year ago, she launched the library’s College Alternatives Information Sessions program, bringing in presenters to talk about what their various institutions and organizations have to offer. The winter and spring sessions met with success, and she put together another slate for 2019-20, resuming Jan. 27 with representatives from New Century Careers and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners.

“We’ve had people come from all over, and also of different ages,” Huffman said. “Interestingly, there have been a couple of parents who are bringing their middle school-aged kids in order to help them start thinking about what they’re going to do, and to let them know what’s out there. Several parents have come to every one of them.”

For this year, she had the idea of including trade unions as a potential source for education and careers. Those sessions have been received well, she said, including one Keystone Oaks High School student who has traveled to Upper St. Clair specifically for that purpose.

“He was a senior, so he’s definitely thinking hard about what to do,” she said.

New Century Careers is a new participant for 2020, signing on after a representative touched based with Huffman about sharing information regarding the 21-year-old nonprofit that focuses on the region’s manufacturing workforce.

Another institution, Penn Commercial Business/Technical School of South Strabane Township, followed a similar route in securing a spot for the May 18 session.

On March 9, the director of admissions for Community College of Allegheny County’s South Campus in West Mifflin will be on hand to provide information about the school’s associate degrees and other programs. According to Huffman, the CCAC session had the highest attendance in 2019.

“If you do want to go to a four-year college, that’s a great stepping stone,” she said.

Monessen’s Douglas Education Center – its offerings include courses in filmmaking, beauty and wellness, skilled trades and allied health, along with the popular Tom Savini’s Special Make-Up Effects program – is scheduled for April 20.

“That one was well-attended last year, also,” Huffman said. “They actually had one of their students doing some theatrical makeup in the background, and by the end of the presentation, there was a person sitting there with a scar on her face: Here’s a small example of what you can learn to do.”

The sessions wrap up for the season May 18, with representatives from Penn Commercial and New Horizons Computer Learning Centers to talk about their areas of study, from information technology to commercial driver’s license training.

Huffman looks forward to continuing to welcome information-seeking visitors.

“Mostly, when I’m speaking to them afterward, they’re grateful for the opportunity to have more of a one-on-one, almost, experience with the presenters,” she said. “At a career fair, it’s loud and there are a lot of people. This way, they can speak with them directly.”

All sessions start at 6:30 p.m.

For more information and to register, twpusc.libcal.com/calendar/tween_and_teen. Drop-ins also are welcome.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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