The Clark Family

Life is good for Christie and John Clark Jr. You might even say it’s a beach for them – in fact, that’s where you’ll often find them.

Free from the overwhelming burden of college debt that many parents of four young adults face, the Haymarket couple enjoys frequent trips to their favorite vacation spot in Mexico.

They’ve also recently paid for the wedding of one of their daughters, and will be paying for another one very soon. They live in an upscale, gracious home.

All of this is possible because they and their children – Brooke Lyn Clark, 27, Corrie Clark, 26, John Clark III, 23, and Ashley Matthews, 21 – made the economical choice to attend Lord Fairfax Community College before transferring to more traditional higher-education institutions.

All four Clark children attended LFCC’s Fauquier Campus to obtain associate degrees after participating in the dual-enrollment program in high school. And, all four are now enjoying successful careers.

Corrie went on to Northern Virginia Community College’s medical education campus, and is a physical therapy assistant. The other three children attended Liberty University.

Ashley graduated with a degree in business and marketing, and is in sales in Wyoming; John has a human resources degree and does HR recruiting; and Brooke Lyn works for Strayer University.

The children financed some of their own education, but don’t have large student loan payments. Both Corrie and Brooke Lyn graduated debt-free, while Ashley had about $23,000 in debt, and John III $15,000.

“After paying for college on an affordable basis, it was easier to pay for two weddings back to back, and now we travel and experience couple time quite a bit,” Mr. Clark said.

“It’s nice not to have that looming debt,” his wife added.

Many of their friends have large amounts of debt from their children’s education – some as much as $250,000 – according to Mr. Clark.

Mrs. Clark homeschooled all four children, who also attended both private and public schools for portions of their education. Each earned about 24-30 hours of college credit before completing high school by attending dual-enrollment courses on campus, her husband said.

Dual enrollment meant their kids graduated at 21, he said, “so they’ve been in their careers longer, earning money longer.”

As a mortgage lender, Mr. Clark sees how high student debt is delaying first-time homeownership for many.

“In the mortgage world, we’re seeing about four to five years added to the length of time before someone can afford to purchase a home,” he said. “College debt is the reason.”

The Clarks, who hail from Indiana and didn’t have the opportunity to go to college themselves, originally believed they’d be sending their children off to four-year universities. But, as the children grew into high schoolers, they reconsidered – and not just for financial reasons.

“We thought about the maturation process,” Mr. Clark said.

Attending LFCC before heading away to school was a “great transition” into adulthood, his wife said.

Mr. Clark said many of their friends had children who decided to skip the community college route, and instead jump into a four-year university despite not being sure of a major.

“Many ended up burning a whole year and spent five years at a university at whole cost,” Mr. Clark said.

Transitioning into LFCC was a “very smooth process,” he said. The help they received from their academic advisor was appreciated.

“I felt that we really received information and guidance from Lord Fairfax about what classes to take,” Mrs. Clark said.

Mr. Clark appreciated that many of the professors at LFCC had worked in their fields and came with “practical experience.”

The Clarks’ only son, John III, has been working as a recruiting specialist at a full-service staffing firm in Reston for about two years.

Starting post-secondary education at a community college just makes sense, John said. He was able to explore a bit more what he wanted to actually pursue as a degree.

“It also is a chance to save money,” John said. “It made me a little bit more marketable to those four-year universities, having that associate degree.

“Not having all that debt is extremely beneficial. I’m able to have a little bit more spending money, a little bit more saving money.”

He’s able to rent an apartment within walking distance of his office.

John made the most of the community aspect of LFCC, playing rec sports, and joining the Student Government Association and Phi Theta Kappa.

“Instead of treating it like a commuter college,” John said he would stick around after classes and be a member of the community.

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