College Debt: the real numbers

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By Claire Ballor

Commentary Editor

 

 

 

 

Fidelity Investments recently conducted a study surveying 750 colleges around the country to get an idea of the average college-related debt of 2013 graduates. The study found that of the 70 percent of students graduating with college-related debt, the average amount owed was $35,200. This number is shocking, but what is more surprising is our own average debt here at the University of Dallas.

According to the UD Office of Financial Aid, 53 percent of the undergraduate population took out student loans, all together borrowing a total of $7,670,404 for the 2013-2014 school year. Their parents borrowed an additional $1,572,138. The average four-year debt for those who took out loans in the graduating class of 2014 was $32,473.

Clearly, UD is not exempt from the student debt crisis that has become a widespread issue in America. Keith Bernhardt, vice president of college planning at Fidelity Investments, said in the study, “The number of graduates reporting surprise by the level of student debt they have accumulated is a big concern and shows that there is a considerable need for families to better understand the total cost of college.”

UD is no exception. Although our average debt is comparable with the national average and has been for many years, student debt is not a widely discussed topic at UD. As a result, many students graduate with debt that they neither understand nor have a payment plan for. This issue is the responsibility of both the borrowing student and the university and it needs to be addressed.

The Office of Financial Aid helps students understand and handle problems and concerns with their college debt. -Photo by Elizabeth Kerin
The Office of Financial Aid helps students understand and handle problems and concerns with their college debt.
-Photo by Elizabeth Kerin

A recent CollegeCalc study, using the most current U.S. Department of Education data, ranked UD as the eighth most expensive school in Texas out of a list of 50 private and public schools. Because UD is a well-respected private school, tuition here is understandably higher, as it directly mirrors the higher education that is received. However, that doesn’t change the fact that a majority of the undergraduate population is accruing significant amounts of debt in order to fund their four years here.

While the return on investment of our UD education may be high due to the quality of education we are receiving, loan payments begin regardless of one’s preparedness or financial stability after graduation. Students must understand and prepare themselves to manage their loans well before their monthly payments begin in order to combat accruing interest.

With the cost of attendance at $51,700 and rising, it is critical that more discussion takes place regarding student loans. UD is known for its scholarships and grants that significantly reduce the amount that students must borrow, but even so, the total amount of debt for UD 2014 graduates was $4,708,518.

The reality is, these numbers are happening across the board in our country. This is not just an issue that UD is facing; it is the result of the ballooning cost of U.S. education at both private and public schools. Even so, it is imperative that we recognize our own participation in the national average. The difficulty of this reality does not allow us to turn a blind eye to the problem.

Students must understand the debt that they may accrue while receiving this education. Unknown to many students, face-to-face loan counseling is available through the Office of Financial Aid. It is resources like this that UD must continue to provide and more widely advertise considering that 53 percent of the current student body takes on student loans. But even more importantly, these students should take ownership of their debt and actively seek out their own solutions.

UD needs to face the reality of student loans and encourage open discussion of these issues while students should take steps toward understanding the preparation needed to tackle their debt after graduation. With wider discussion and more openness regarding this topic, hopefully student debt will become better managed and understood here at UD.

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