Dr. Juan Chisholm Dishes Advice on Graduating College Debt-Free

Earlier this week, UNCF President and CEO Dr. Michael Lomax discussed the financial crisis that college students are facing and the disproportionate number of black students that rely heavily on loans to pay for college. He stated that 75% of students at HBCUs, versus 40% in the general population, rely on Pell grants and federal student loans, and elaborated on how a low-income background coupled with high interest rates often discourage students from even applying to college.

While the high student loan debt story is common to many college graduates, there are a few people who find themselves to be an exception to the rule. One such person is author and entrepreneur Dr. Juan Chisholm. As a debt-free graduate of three universities, Dr. Chisholm uses his knowledge on financial literacy to inform the next generation about how they too can graduate college free of debt.

Black Enterprise.com caught up with the author, who has a new book coming out this summer, to get the latest on his work with Revolution Leadership, a 2001 non-profit started by his wife Audrey Chisholm Esq., and his secret to completing college free of loans.

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BlackEnterprise.com: Talk a little bit about the work you do with Revolution Leadership:

I’ve been working with Revolution Leadership for many years and the initial thing I do with the organization is a lot of CFO work, but I’m also one of the presenters for the financial workshop. I get great reviews on the workshop in terms of helping students to raise money and pay for school in order to graduate debt free.

Now you graduated from both undergrad and law school debt free, correct?

Yes, I went to three schools. I attended Florida State University. I also completed a program from the Harvard Business School on strategic finance and I attended law school and graduated from all of these programs debt-free.

Please tell us how in the world did you do that?

Believe it or not, there are different things I did for each of them. Basically, a lot of it started when I was in high school. I had this thing where I wanted to learn about stocks and investing. So I did research and started an investment club and I used this club to introduce me and some other people into the world of financing and investing. From starting an investment club I learned about various stock bonds and mutual funds and real estate investment clubs, so it basically introduced me into the world of finance and I ended up writing a book about it called How to Make Your Past a Blessing to Your Future. In the book, I explain those seven key financial vehicles like stock funds, mutual funds, real estate investment clubs and wills and basically teach you how to use them to reach your financial goals. So when I was at Florida State University I used my knowledge from the investment club I started in high school, financial aid programs and scholarships to help cover the bulk of my education. And since I also learned to be resource savvy, I became a resident assistant to help cover my housing cost, which was the most expensive thing in college.

For my program at the Harvard Business School in strategic finance, I did a couple of different things. First thing, I used my connections as a fundraiser and to ask people to basically make a contribution to what I was doing. By the time I was going into the program I had also sold my book and used those funds as a fundraiser. So with that, I was also able to walk away from Harvard without any debt. Then, by the time I went to Law School, I had written another book called Investitude, which consists of a financial concept that I created. It basically teaches people how to use your existing financial resources to maximize your money. It teaches you to use what you have to get what you want. Also, while in law school I treated myself as if I was my own client and I asked myself how can I finish this without having loads of debt. I gave myself a financial plan, and as an evening student who worked in the morning I was able to juggle my finances and bills to help cover the bulk of my tuition. For whatever was left, I was able to apply to local scholarships and some legal scholarships that would cover the rest of my cost. So a lot of times, success for me at the end of the semester was just having good grades and tuition paid.

Clearly, you know a lot about financial literacy and it has paid off tremendously for you. Do you have any financial tips for students gearing up to enter college or for those who are in college now?

One thing I will say is to have a positive attitude. I’m involved in an organization called Young Investors that I started about 11 years ago, and we have clubs in several states and cities around the country. With Young Investors, we show students how to get money for school at their level and I would recommend any student to join [the program]. Another opportunity I would recommend is go to Fastweb.com and they will get you connected to several resources. The third opportunity I would say is to check out [my] book Investitude because I write a lot in the book on this material. And the fourth thing I would say is for students to not take local scholarships for granted. The local scholarships are what will be at the local community organizations and those scholarships are a lot of times easier to get than national and state scholarships.

Now as it relates to housing, because that’s a big cost, they can of course become a resident assistant. But if they can’t do that then they can contact some local residential apartments and see if they can work at the front desk there for free housing. And then a lot of times there is a scholarship house. In the state of Florida we have something called the Southern Scholarship Foundation and basically it is a scholarship housing facility that will allow you to pay just a small portion of your housing. So instead of you paying $10,000 you may just pay $1,000. And in terms of books, students often times forget that you can go to the library and utilize books there. Also, you can use social media to connect with other students who have a book and don’t plan on selling it back to the store.