By Haley Ruiz and Katie Beth Nichols
The Razorback Reporter

Even though the cost of college continues to rise, and student debt levels are higher than ever, some college students have managed to graduate with minimal or zero debt.

Ewald Visser, 25, is an employee at Readerlink, the main book distributor to Target, Walmart and other large non-trade outlets. He graduated from the UofA with a chemical engineering degree in 2015. Visser said he paid for college through working, scholarships and receiving financial assistance from his family. He graduated with no student debt.

Visser said he has friends who are still repaying their loans.

“I can see that it’s something that weighs on them,” Visser said.

Some college graduates have taken advantage of their lack of debt to sooner pursue their dreams.

Ryan Burton, 29, is the owner and founder of Burton’s Creamery in Fayetteville. He graduated from the UofA with a kinesiology degree in 2011. Ryan Burton said he paid for college through scholarships, working during the summers and he received financial help from his parents. He graduated with no student debt, but his wife, Chelsey Burton, is an elementary school teacher with $40,000 in student loan debt.

The lack of student loan debt gave Ryan Burton considerable freedom after college. Before going into the ice cream business, he was in a band and lived in Nashville.

“If I had a lot of debt, that’s probably not a path I would have pursued,” Ryan Burton said. “I probably would’ve done something that could immediately start bringing in an income.”

Omar Kasim, 24, is the owner and founder of Con Quesos and Juice Palm in Fayetteville. He received a full scholarship to the UofA and graduated with no student debt. Kasim said if he graduated from the university with a lot of debt, then he probably would not have started his businesses.

“If I had debt I needed to take care of,” Kasim said, “a smarter choice would’ve been to go work for someone or another company and try to reduce that as much as possible, if not eliminate it altogether.”

Kasim and Chelsey Burton said not everyone needs to go to college because society needs people with vocational and trade skills, such as welders and electricians. They both said high school students need to understand alternatives to college, and if they do attend, they need to learn the implications of student debt on their lives. They said the system is overpriced and that many students do not comprehend the loan process. Chelsey Burton added that some students do not understand how much their education costs if their parents are paying for it. As a result, the students may mess around in school, and needlessly run up a large bill.

Joel Doelger, 64, a counselor at Credit Counseling of Arkansas in Fayetteville, said many people are not prepared adequately for the real cost of college. After graduation, former students wind up coming to credit counseling for student loan and other debts.

“They’re just stuck,” Doelger said. “They’re either spinning their wheels or they have their heads stuck in the sand because they just don’t know where to go.”

Kasim said it is hard for students to see how much debt they are accumulating because they do not have to start repaying it until after graduation.

“All throughout school, you should work on paying that loan down so you don’t have this big hurdle that you just can’t overcome,” Kasim said. “If you have to pay for everything along the way, you wonder about how bad you want a college education.”