By Robbie Owens


DALLAS, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – Earning college degrees without going into debt: it’s become a major selling point at UNT Dallas. And now more students are proving that it’s possible… students like Dallas native T.J. Vaughns.​

“People are terrified of these loans,” says Vaughns, a graduating senior. “Sometimes student loan debt falls back on the parents. It just feels like there’s no weight on my shoulders.”​

“T.J. the D.J.”, as he’s known in professional circles, is a born entrepreneur. But, if you’d plotted his future as a young boy growing up in Pleasant Grove?​

“Maybe being a rapper, ” he admits with a shrug, “or out there in the streets doing something crazy.” But, certainly not college. “Crazy”, in fact, became the life path of many peers.​

“In prison,” says Vaughns. “My associates in elementary, middle school high school? All of them. Locked up.”​

But Vaughns, who graduated near the top of his class at Dallas’ Samuell High School, this spring will earn a degree in business from UNT Dallas. And the icing on the diploma? He’s done it, debt free.​

“It’s really about keeping prices affordable, ” says Stephanie Holley, UNT’s Vice President of Student Access & Success. “It’s also about maximizing resources for students. So if they’re eligible for scholarships, we make sure they have them.”​

She says Vaughns is a prime example of the kind of student that UNT Dallas hopes to reach by making a college degree both affordable and accessible.​

“There are hundreds of other students on this campus who can tell you a story similar to T.J., ” says Holley proudly, “and they are getting that degree and making that dream come true and it’s going to impact everybody around them and everybody behind them. People think, ‘I can’t do this. I’m coming from a family that cannot provide this for me, I’m not going to go’, come to UNT Dallas, we will help you find a way.”​

Average Student Loan Debt Statistics by School by State 2019

So many students are finding their way to affordable degrees at UNT Dallas, that LendEDU, a student loan marketplace, recently ranked the campus as having the lowest student debt among public universities in the nation.​

It’s another way, supporters say, that the fast growing campus works to set students up for success. As for Vaughns, he says all of the money that he won’t be spending on student loan repayments, he has been able to save, invest and pour back into his business. ​

“You’ve got to be your biggest believer,” says Vaughns, “you can do anything you put your mind to.”​