College Affordability Pittman

Adrianna Pittman, left, and Kacin Bolinger-Perret work on a class project at University of Montana-Western in Dillon last spring. Pittman, who is studying math and science, works as a resident assistant, and with the help of scholarships she paid only $6.20 for tuition last semester.

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DILLON — Adrianna Pittman paid $6.20 for tuition last semester.

"It's my first own accomplishment," said Pittman, from Glen, Montana, just north of here.

Pittman is studying math and science at the University of Montana-Western, and the future educator aims to graduate without being saddled with heavy debt. Last semester, she had taken out exactly zero dollars in student loans.

At the campus with roughly 1,363 students, she works as a resident assistant, and she applies for scholarships with help from her mom. Pittman's mom went to Carroll College and then transferred to Western.

"She's still paying off her Carroll student loans to this day," Pittman said of the private Catholic college in Helena.

At Montana Western, tuition and fees cost $5,717 for the year for residents last school year. By comparison, tuition and fees at Carroll are $36,280 for one year, and at the Missoula flagship, they're $8,185 for one year. (The total cost of going to college is higher because it includes rent, food, transportation, and other expenses on top of tuition and fees.)

In high school, Pittman was not the valedictorian of her class, and she is not a 4.0 student. She graduated No. 24 out of 88 from Beaverhead County High School in a competitive year, and last semester, she was earning a 3.6 grade point average in college.

"I'm happy with it. … when you put in the hard work and get a B, you feel like you've earned it," Pittman said.

But she spent a lot of time applying for scholarships and probably turned in 100 applications before she started college. (Her mom, Tammy Pittman, is familiar with scholarships as a counselor for the Montana Youth Challenge Academy.) The awards Adrianna Pittman has earned are not only for students with straight As.

For example, she was named a 2019 Newman Civic Fellow, an honor for students dedicated to solving public problems. The fellowship allows her to apply for exclusive scholarships and post-secondary opportunities.

Pittman was drawn to UM–Western because she believed she could succeed academically in the block schedule (see related story), and she wouldn't get bogged down in debt. She plans to graduate in 2023.

"College is not cheap by any means, so being able to work and pay tuition that's not super awful at all? It makes it really easy to get out without a bunch of student loans," Pittman said.

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This article originally ran on missoulian.com.

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