Brian Payne is vice provost for academic affairs at Old Dominion University. Daniel DeMarte is executive vice president for academic and student affairs at Tidewater Community College.

The mountain of college debt borne by graduates and their families — $1.4 trillion and counting — weighs on Americans in many ways, from the ability to buy a house to, in some cases, the ability to retire. Across the country, the number of individuals using student loans to pay for college increased more than 90 percent between 2004 and 2014.

More problematic for Virginians is a recent finding from a study by the Institute for College Access and Success: The average amount of debt for our bachelor's degree recipients is $27,717 .

Even more concerning is the fact that 6 out of 10 graduates from four-year institutions in the commonwealth graduate in debt. The total student loan debt in Virginia stands at $30 billion.

But discussions around affordability wrongly assume that higher education leaders are doing little or nothing about it. In fact, Old Dominion University and Tidewater Community College have been developing cost-efficient degree pathways for years.

A new pathway was announced this fall. TCC graduates in two transfer programs — general studies and social sciences — can now seamlessly transfer into ODU's interdisciplinary bachelor's degree in leadership.

The program is great for working adults because most of the courses are online. One course each semester will be taught at TCC's Norfolk campus, so students also will have the opportunity for face-to-face interaction with their professors.

When designed effectively, these pathways, which we academics call "articulation agreements," have value not only for students and families but also for the faculty, the institutions and the wider community.

Students pay less in tuition and course materials, and their path to completion and entry into the workforce is accelerated.

They also have an array of possible college choices. ODU has more than 190 transfer agreements, partnering with every community college in the commonwealth. TCC has more than 130 transfer agreements with 46 colleges and universities, including every four-year public institution in the commonwealth.

More than 3,600 students transfer each year from TCC to pursue bachelor's degrees, and nearly half transfer to ODU. Three of the most popular transfer programs are in engineering, nursing and business. TCC engineering graduates, who have enjoyed small class sizes and more interaction with professors, can transfer into a number of ODU engineering programs.

While graduates of TCC's nursing curriculum go into the workforce, many also pursue a bachelor of science in nursing at ODU.

And one of TCC's largest programs, business, feeds one of ODU's largest programs, too.

Transfer agreements take many forms because we serve diverse student populations. There are guaranteed-admission agreements, as well as agreements targeted to specific groups, such as military and online students. We have a "Here2ODU" agreement, under which students who are not quite ready for ODU can successfully complete at least 15 credits at TCC and be guaranteed ODU admission.

Institutions benefit from these partnerships, too. In one of our most recent partnerships, TCC's experts in open educational resources trained ODU faculty how to develop courses that do not require students to buy textbooks.

The textbook-free pathway from an associate degree at TCC to a bachelor's degree at ODU will save students and parents $16,715 in college costs. This new pathway is being developed by TCC and ODU in partnership with Kempsville High School's new entrepreneurship academy, a dual-enrollment program that will let high school students jump-start their college educations, save money and accelerate their degrees.

Meanwhile, our faculty members benefit by learning from each other, forming new partnerships that require open communication and interaction on a deeper level. Through this communication, faculty learn new course material, work with colleagues and become a part of a broader network committed to student success.

This past decade, more than 5,500 ODU graduates were students who started at TCC.

A recent study from the College Board found that those with a bachelor's degree make $24,600 a year more than those with no college degree, and these same graduates pay an average of $6,900 more in taxes each year. This suggests these 5,500 graduates potentially net $135 million more in salaries and pay nearly $38 million more in taxes each year than they would have paid had they not earned their degrees.

Why is this important? Because it benefits the community at large — in Virginia and across the country.