JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – As students across Missouri prepare to head off to college, many will be learning important debt-management skills thanks to grants from the Department of Higher Education. Liz Coleman, the department’s communications director, said the default-protection grants awarded to 31 Missouri colleges and universities will allow those schools to develop programs to help students understand how to live within their means. ”How to pay for college and earn a degree without overextending themselves financially,” she said, “student loan debt, credit card debt, and the importance of planning for a secure financial future.” Experts estimate the average student loan debt for a student who just graduated in 2014 to be close to $33,000. Coleman said she believes these programs are paying off, since the Missouri student loan default rate is 13.1 percent, compared with a national average of 14.7 percent. Given the rising cost of college and the struggles so many students go through to pay for it, Coleman said some may question the value of higher education but in today’s competitive economy it is more important than ever. ”Research shows that by 2018, that more than 60 percent of the jobs in our state will require some form of higher education,” she said, “and that does include two- and four-year degrees and one-year professional certificates.” Since 2001, the department has awarded nearly $10 million in default-prevention grants to Missouri educational institutions. More information on grants is online at dhe.mo.gov.