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ORU student debt higher than U.S. average

The first day of college for an incoming freshman is enchanting, surrounded by grand architecture, a sea of new faces and lots of “firsts.” Surely, this will be a four-year home, and absolutely nothing can stand in the way of a calling; nothing except an incomplete registration.

A visit to Student Accounts and Financial Aid the week before add-drop day finally brings reality back to the forefront. One week to pay $5,000 or pack the dorm room and head home. The easiest solution is to take out a loan. What is one loan anyway?
The question is asked each year until graduation’s happy celebration is followed by the weight of student debt.

Nationally rising tuition costs continue to force students into taking out more loans to earn a college degree, or worse, force students to drop out of school altogether.

“I honestly was given a pretty generous amount of financial aid. I have a Whole Person Scholarship, a dance talent scholarship and a grant. Even so, I have $10,000 that I have to pay out-of-pocket or borrow every semester,” said Eden Miller, ORU sophomore online student.

Types of AidMiller, who moved back home to Virginia in December due to lack of finances, hopes to return to full-time status in the fall.

“Having to figure out how to pay that every semester is frustrating and stressful. I am constantly worried about finances,” she said.

Miller’s situation isn’t unique. Undergraduates at ORU collectively owe more than $18 million in federal loans. The average federal debt for an ORU graduate in 2013 was $36,827, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The national student debt average stands at around $28,400. Oklahoma ranks at $22, 174, around 60 percent of ORU’s average.

As ORU senior students begin the transition from college to career, they’ll be taking with them more than a recovered mortar cap and universitiy diploma. Most will graduate with sizable student debt, double that of borrowers graduating 20 years ago.

The problem ORU students face is not unique, but one found nationally. 70 percent of students earning a bachelor’s degree will leave school with debt, according to Edvisors Senior Vice President and Publisher Mark Kantrowitz.

“What some students see is this big number, and they think there is no way they can do anything about it, but students need to have integrity and pride, and not blow off loan repayment,” said Genevieve Delaune, student service group represtentative, who works in ORU’s Office of Financial Aid.

Financial aid counselors coach students to be money wise, but each semester students are at odds on how to pay for school.

“Some students come into my office and cannot afford to come here. They have run out every loan; they cannot get a Parent Plus loan or find a cosigner. But God wants them to be here. It breaks my heart because they really struggle,” said Delaune.

DefaultSome students graduate and struggle to repay loan debt. Almost 12 percent (11.8) of ORU students default on student loans, which is higher than the 9.1 percent national average.

Kantrowitz, Edvisors senior vice president, suggests these economic hardships create compromises for graduates.

“Students may be able to manage for a few years using economic hardship deferment or forbearances, but eventually the reality of the student loan debt forces [graduates] to get higher-paying jobs in the private sector,” Kantrowitz said in a recent article titled “Student Loan Forgiveness.”

These kinds of compromises would keep many ORU graduates from pursuing public service careers such as working for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, in ministries, as teachers, social workers and in other public service positions.

The Oracle staff has vowed to focus on student debt challenges and offer helpful suggestions this spring. Follow #PayForORU on Facebook and Twitter for strategies, scholarships and more.

Graduation is not the time to start planning. The challenge begins in earlier years.

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