Nat’l loan default rate up to 9.1 percent

The University of Minnesota’s student loan default rates are lower.

Nat’l loan default rate up to 9.1 percent

Rebecca Harrington

Of the 8,400 University of Minnesota graduates who started paying for their federal student loans in 2010, 2.2 percent of them were unable to pay and defaulted.

At the national level, 9.1 percent of the more than 4 million graduates who started paying for their federal student loans in 2010 defaulted, according to the latest loan data released Friday by the U.S. Department of Education.

This percentage represents nearly 375,000 college graduates who were unable to pay their loans — up from 8.8 percent of graduates who started paying in 2009.

The Department of Education uses this data to revoke schools’ eligibility for federal loans where default rates are higher than 25 percent for three years.

Kris Wright, the University’s director of the Office of Student Finance, said 4-year institutions like the University generally have much lower rates than the national average. She said the University’s good graduation rates and the jobs available to graduates contribute to its low default rate.

While the Unviersity’s is low compared to the nation, it’s up from 1.7 percent in the previous year.

“It’s not a big change,” Wright said, “but it’s not a trend we want continuing.”

Jenny Cafarella, a pre-med junior, is putting herself through school with a combination of federal and private loans.

She said she is comfortable with the amount of debt she has because she’s confident she will be able to pay it once she graduates from medical school.

“Hopefully, I am going to successfully enter a field where the debt to income ratio is sufficient enough for me to be able to repay these loans,” Cafarella said.

But this isn’t the case for all students with loans at the University.

Div Shukla, materials science junior, said his parents are paying for his education now, but he will have to reimburse them after he graduates.

“I have no clue how I’m going to pay my parents back,” he said.

Shukla said he chose to pursue an engineering degree because it offers careers with higher salaries.

He said he was hopeful that University President Eric Kaler’s proposal to freeze tuition for 2014 and 2015 would pass because it would help students.

Wright said the increase in loan defaults was not just because of increases in tuition. Students and faculty now expect technology like Moodle and computers to enhance their education more than they did a decade ago, “but those things all cost money,” Wright said.

Students who graduated from the University with a bachelor’s degree in 2003-04 had an average of $15,913 in debt, according to University data. In 2010-11, this number had almost doubled to $27,089.

Also in 2003-04, 42 percent of students graduated without any debt at all. This number dropped to 34 percent by 2010-11.

Jeff Erickson, a geology junior, also has a combination of federal and private loans. He transferred from Minneapolis Community and Technical College in 2010, but he said he wishes he would have stayed there to save money because he didn’t need loans when he went there.

Erickson said he isn’t sure how he will pay for his loans once he graduates, but he hopes that he can get a good job. Otherwise, he said his family will probably be able to help.

“I try not to think about it, mainly,” he said.

Cafarella said her living and educational expenses are within the University’s cost of attendance budget.

For an undergraduate student living in a residence hall or apartment, the University estimates college will cost $24,718. This total includes tuition, room and board, books, transportation and miscellaneous expenses.

The budget calculator is one example of services the University has to help students manage their money, Wright said.

The best way students can save money is if they graduate in four years, she said. The University has been trying to increase the 4-year graduation rate throughout the last decade.

OneStop’s campaign, “Live Like a Student,” is another resource the University has to help students, Wright said. The campaign aggregates cheap and free activities for students to participate in and provides money management tips.

Erickson said he knew he would have to take loans out when he came to the University, but he didn’t know it was going to be this much.

For Cafarella, the amount of money she can take out in loans can be daunting, she said, which might be why so many graduates find themselves defaulting.

“It’s a tricky business when you’re going to school on loans,” she said, “because you can take out lump sums.”