With graduation season’s arrival, it’s time for thousands of college seniors around the country to move the tassel on top of their cap to the side and to begin the next phase of their lives out in the real world.
For many, though, that new chapter can be bogged down from the crushing amount of college debt graduates in this country owe and will now begin repaying.
Penn State is ranked third in the highest tuition for an in-state school for the 2014-15 academic year, according to a U.S. News and World Report.
And in 2014, the average amount of student loan debt that a Penn State graduate of that year held was $36,955, Melissa Kunes, senior director of the Penn State Office of Student Aid, said. This number is much higher than the $28,000 national average.
For many, this debt can weigh them down long after they graduate from Penn State and could potentially deter them from milestones such as getting married, buying a home or starting a family.
“It’s going to put me behind financially for a few years,” Dan Polish, who will be taking out a loan for his education next year, said.
Polish (freshman-aerospace engineering) said when his dad attended Penn State, the school was on a trimester system, and the cost per trimester was $135.
For some students, even the thought of borrowing thousands of dollars can be daunting.
“Most students are concerned about needing to borrow,” Kunes said.
However, Kunes said their office “counsels students to be very cautious” in terms of how much they borrow. She tells students to keep a running budget of expenses and any income to help determine how much they can afford.
However, she said she sees the long-term benefits in borrowing money.
“[An] investment in their future is being made by obtaining a four-year baccalaureate degree,” Kunes said.
With this investment, there are various loans that are offered from the Office of Student Aid –– One of which is the Federal Direct Stafford Loan. This loan is offered directly to students and there is a cap on the borrowing limit for students, Kunes said. The cap ranges from $5,500 for students to borrow their freshman year up to $7,500 for junior and senior students, which brings the four-year borrowing total to approximately $31,000.
There is also another option available to students called the Federal Direct Parent PLUS Loan, which would allow parents to take out loans to help cover the rest of a student’s expense. Kunes said parents can take out and repay PLUS loans.
There can be dangers, however, associated with taking out a large chunk of student loans. The default rate on these loans at Penn State is 7.7 percent according to documents provided by the Federal Student Aid website. However, that is better than most, to put into context, the national default rate on student loans was 13.7 percent.
A person is classified as defaulting on a student loan if he or she has not made a payment in over 270 days, according to the Office of the U.S. Department of Education.
Serious ramifications can ensue from defaulting on a loan, including the remaining amount of loan due for immediate payment, the default of payment being reported to creditors hurting your credit score and potential legal action by the loan holder.
However, the Office of Student Aid works with students to help stop these potential headaches from occurring.
“Financial literacy is something we’re attuned to,” Kunes said. She added the goal is to educate students being cautious about deciding on how much money to borrow.
There are steps, however, being taken towards making education here at Penn State more affordable or at least stemming the trend of raising tuition every year.
In March, Penn State President Eric Barron announced he would freeze tuition at the university for the upcoming 2015-16 academic year if Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s proposal to increase funding for the university by almost $50 million was successful and passed.
This would be the first time tuition was frozen since the 1967-68 academic year.
However, for some students, this is not enough.
“I think the university could help by trying to help students decide what they want to do sooner and stop pushing the idea of staying for another semester or two,” Purnima Malik (senior-biochemistry and molecular biology) said.
Malik will be graduating this spring debt free, but feels that the school could take additional steps to make the education more affordable for everyone.
“This university does not give out scholarships unless you are in the honors college, a great athlete or in their financial-aid bracket,” Malik said. “They need to have the individual colleges in charge of giving scholarships in other categories like the most outstanding student, or best undergrad researcher.”