This article comes from the Campus Contributor Network. Over the course of the semester, students from across our campus outreach program will analyze their school’s finances and assess the overall return students see on their educational investments.
With tuition rates rising across the country, more students than ever before are taking out loans. The College of William and Mary shows how schools can use cost-effective strategies to help students manage this debt.
I have saved for education my entire life, pinching pennies whenever I can. Yet the cost of education still seems insurmountable. Like many students, I feel perpetually burdened by the serious debt I know I accumulate every second I’m in college.
What debt looks like for W&M students
At the College of William and Mary, as of 2012, about one in four students take out federal loans their freshman year. This figure is comparable with other top-ranked institutions, but significantly lower than the national average of one in two public university students. Reputable and high-ranked colleges tend to have larger endowments, higher tuition and more private donations to provide scholarships and financial aid. Thus it follows that such students would be taking out fewer loans.
After four years, the average William and Mary borrower graduates $27,368 in debt, compared to the national average of $37,172. However, the average William and Mary graduate makes $9,781 more than the average graduate of a four-year public university immediately after graduation.
Graduates from William and Mary have a .6 percent loan default rate after three years compared to the 7.3 percent national average. However, this statistic can be misleading because fiscal responsibility does not necessarily mean quick repayment. Even if William and Mary graduates have higher average incomes, debt can follow them for years to come.
Assistance from the school
William and Mary assuages the debt problem by acquiring monetary resources for aid, informing students financially and creating expense transparency. On the front page of the Financial Aid website, one can find a clear and simple guide for students with links to many federal and state services that provide aid. Further, the college offers a tuition payment plan that distributes costs into four equal payments throughout a semester. This convenient debt collection ensures predictability and consistency for students and their families.
In 2013, the college created the William and Mary Promise which guarantees students a flat tuition rate for all four years of a student’s undergraduate education. This also provides greater financial aid to low-income state students. Thanks to private donations, aid for students from middle-income families – between $40,000 and $60,000 – increased by $8,000 on average.
Even with all this help, many students can still find themselves weighed down by student debt. In 2012, national student loan debt exceeded auto loan and credit card debt at over $1 trillion. This puts pressure on students to enroll in classes that create more marketable degrees. For example, each year at William and Mary, over 325 undergraduates (about 20 percent of each class) opt to major or minor in a business program.
William and Mary, a fundamentally liberal arts college, recently expanded and renovated its school of business. No student wants debt, but every student wants job security. Devastatingly, learning and intellectual development can often be overshadowed by concern about post-graduate outcomes.
Even if William and Mary students seem to fair better than average, those outcomes can still hinder development. According to Time, about 20 percent of indebted US graduates say their debt influenced employment plans, causing them to take jobs outside their field, take multiple jobs and work more than they would like. About 10 percent say their debt caused delays in major life events, such as buying a home or getting married.
Unless the university provides effective payment strategies or ensures phenomenal outcomes, students should be hesitant to spend more than they can on education.
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