Many students avoid loans

A report found that students often fund their college education without loans.

Taylor Nachtigal

Rather than owing the government or a private bank thousands of dollars, University of Minnesota sophomore Ashley Kellen is borrowing money to cover her tuition fees from her parents.

“I can pay them back a few years after I have gotten out of college — without interest,” she said.

Kellen, like many college students and their families nationwide, is turning to a wider range of options to finance her postsecondary education and is relying less on federal loans that come with high interest rates.

Sallie Mae, a leading student lender, released a report earlier this year that shows how college students and their parents have paid for college since 2008.

The study found that the number of people financing college through borrowed funds dropped to 22 percent in 2013-14, a 5 percent decrease from the prior year and the lowest rate in the last five years.

Parent income and savings, along with grants and scholarships, covered the largest amount of college expenses, sitting at 30 and 31 percent, respectively. 

Kellen said her younger sister is also entering college soon, and her family has discussed the burden of covering both of their expenses.

She said her parents are considering taking out a mortgage on their home to avoid borrowing student loans, saying the interest rates on the mortgage would be lower.

“It would be a better financial decision,” Kellen said.

Along with borrowing from her parents, Kellen also works a part-time job to cover living costs during the year, and she works a full-time job during the summer.

“It helps to pay part of tuition, and then I can borrow less from [my parents] the next year,” she said.

Julie Selander, director of One Stop Student Services, said many University students are in a similar position as Kellen and are trying to avoid hefty student loans as much as possible.

“I would certainly say their desire is to borrow less, except when they need to,” she said. “For the most part, the trend is people want to borrow less; it’s just ‘How do I do that?’ That’s the question.”

Selander said she regularly has conversations with students about the balance between using family contributions, government loans, institutional financial aid, scholarships and work-study.

Selander said that OneStop counsels students about the amount they will owe in loans after graduation and what their monthly payments will look like.

“I think that’s a big surprise for people. Students are shocked and surprised about how much student loan debt they have taken out over the course of their time here,” she said. “We want you to have a very clear idea [of what you owe] and what that means.”

Selander said the office has ramped up its efforts recently to improve students’ financial literacy and to demystify the confusion with loans.

While some students rely on their parents to help pay for school, Jessica Hartwig, a fourth-year English student, has paid for tuition over the years through a combination of part-time jobs and federal and private loans.

But because she’s maxed out the amount she can borrow in federal loans, she now relies on money from her two part-time jobs, food stamps and private loans.

It will take years to pay those loans off, Hartwig said.

“You’re entering the world at a disadvantage because you’re taking out tens of thousands of dollars in loans so you can afford to live,” she said. “But you’re going to be spending the next decade paying off those loans.”