How much do you owe?: Taking a look at the impact of private and federal loan debt on students

Nationwide loan and default rates

As unemployment rates have risen, so has the cost of college.  The rate of borrowed student loans has also followed this pattern, meaning more students are graduating in debt.

When choosing a college, one question a student may ponder revolves around how much particular colleges will cost.

According to Department of Education data released on Sept. 12, the national rate of federal student loan defaults rose to 8.8 percent over all in the 2009 fiscal year.

This means that 8.8 percent of borrowers failed to make regular payments on their loans.

The rate at public institutions rose from 6 percent to 7.2 percent, and there was a rise from 4 percent to 4.6 percent at private institutions.

For every one person who defaults, two more are likely to fall behind in their payments, according to a Sept. 12 New York Times article on the subject.

With tuition rates rising all over the country, loan borrowers can become the ones struggling in the economy. Fewer available jobs means it is becoming harder for students to make a dent in their debt.

Whitworth loans and defaults

When it comes to financial aspects at Whitworth, Wendy Olson not only works with students, but also communicates with the Federal Department of Education.

“Out of 347 students who graduated in May 2011 and attended all four years, 243 had loans with an average loan debt of $23,983 for all types of student loans,” Olson said.

This number includes all types of student loans, including private and federal.

All 243 of those students also took out federal loans, with an average debt of $21,242.

Alternative student loans are private loans usually from a bank, whereas federal loans include loans for parents and students, and are granted by the government.

Whitworth default rates are much lower than the national average.

“The federal cohort loan default rate, published this month, is 0.8 percent, and a year ago it was 0.9 percent” for Whitworth, Olson said.

That means out of all the Whitworth students borrowing federal loans only 0.8 percent of them default.

“Our drop from 0.9 percent to 0.8 percent speaks well of our students,” Olson said.  “They are responsible and take care of communications for loans.”

Students find ways to save

There are also ways around loans.  There are plenty of students here at Whitworth who aren’t going to have a penny of debt.

One of those students is sophomore Mailia Yang.

Yang is an Act 6 scholar, meaning that in high school she was noticed for being a young leader in suburban Spokane.  Only 66 students in the Tacoma, Spokane, Yakima and Portland areas receive this sort of scholarship.

This scholarship pays for Yang’s schooling; she only pays for books for classes.

Other Whitworth students come into school with various academic, departmental and other scholarships also cutting back on the cost of tuition, which lowers the amount of loans they will need.

Scholarships reduce need for loans

Then there are some students, such as sophomore Esther Wenzel, who will work throughout the school year finding new scholarships to add onto others already earned.More scholarships earned means less debt overall.“I just look online at websites with scholarships, and I do whatever I can to earn them,” Wenzel said.  “I usually have to submit essays and applications, and if I get the scholarship it saves me about $1,000.”

Wenzel has been able to get a few scholarships since she started looking for them, and is still looking for more this year.

Debt and loans Whitworth students face

For many students, debt will always be just around the corner.  Debt is something they knew they would have coming into school; they have accepted it and they will work hard to pay it off.

Junior Sergio Jara knew he would have to borrow money.

“On average I borrow about $10,000 in loans each year,” Jara said.

Jara also got to have an amazing experience this past summer working as an intern in Washington, D.C., but that trip cost him an additional $8,000 in loans. One student’s debt and a plan to pay it off

Junior Kiley Schatz is also taking out about $10,000 in loans each year, along with taking on her parent loans, which add on an additional $10,000 a year.

At the end of four years, Schatz will be $80,000 in debt, but she already has a plan to pay it off.

“I am planning on doing Peace Corps for a few years after school, which pays off some of my loans, and then going to grad school which will add on more loans, but then working for the state which will pay for my loans,” Schatz said.

Many students are either dealing with paying off debt or trying to find a way around it. And with tuition continuing to rise and jobs continuing to seize, loans may become an even more frequent role in students’ lives.


By Haley Willamson