Every day, there are news stories about the student debt crisis. But what exactly is the crisis we’re seeking to solve? Is it the staggering amount of student debt? The rapidly rising cost of higher education? The high default rate on student loans? That’s what Millersville students are trying to find out.
These questions may not be present on students’ minds, but the chilling part of it is that most students don’t fully understand their debt and loans; but once they graduate, they are hit with a tremendous volume of debt that they didn’t see coming.
“I thought every student had a substantial amount of debt…I had to take out private loans to subsidize my education. I thought that was normal.” Channel Lowery, a graduate student of Millersville University quotes on Nov. 7th in a roundtable discussion here in Millersville Duncan Alumni House.
Other students joined in the discussion, as well as recent alumni who all stated that they began their studies not knowing how much they’re taking on.
According to Forbes and ABC27, The average graduate leaves school with nearly $35,000 in debt while the national debt of students hovers at $1.5 trillion. Out of these statistics, Pennsylvania ranks second in student debt. It is certainly a crisis for those with student loan debts whose repayment schedules span decades, with large monthly payments.
It is also a crisis for lenders experiencing significant default rates and, perhaps, a crisis for the federal government, as it guarantees these student loans.
“At the undergraduate level, we’re in a society where you need to have the education to be able to get a good job,” Lowery said.
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, also present at the meeting, said a solution could involve mandatory debt counseling.
“We heard about loan refund checks,” DePasquale said. “Some students get the check and they don’t understand it’s a loan refund. They don’t have to spend it and can return that money. Instead, students spend that money and that adds to their total debt.”
According to the MU financial aid office, A refund check is money that is directly given to you from your school, but it’s not a gift. It is the excess money left over from your financial aid package after your tuition and fees have been paid.
Schools use these loans first to pay your tuition and fees, so grants and scholarships are exhausted first. So for most students, that means a refund check is leftover student loan money.
That means the money in that refund check will need to be paid back in the future and could be accumulating interest from the time that check makes its way into your eager hands.
However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it if you need it, either. Some students use their refund checks to purchase education-related items like books, laptops, or other program essentials – items student loans were intended to cover.
However, it can be really tempting to use that extra money to enjoy some non-essentials. That’s why DePasquale encourages debt counseling to students during their first year of college.
I asked students around campus for opinions on DePasquale’s solution and if they agree on having mandatory debt counseling. Rashna Yousaf, a senior and English major and minoring in journalism agrees on having debt counseling started early for students and briefly explains her experience on getting her refund checks:
“When I was a freshman in my second semester, this guy from the registrar office came to our class and he told us that the refund check that we get you don’t have to spend them and you can give it back because if not, it adds to your overall debt. I didn’t know that. Because of my first semester when I got my first refund I did spend it all. My thought process was like, ‘Okay well I’m getting this money back, I’ll use it on books. I also bought a laptop.’ If I had known that it was going to accumulate more debt, I would have given back some.”
She also adds how important it is to seek out your advisor
“Meeting with your advisor should be mandatory too because kids are taking classes that they don’t need to graduate and that adds to their debt. So knowing what you have to pay and what you don’t have to pay, and what you’re adding to your overall cost is so much more important.”
Jocelyn Cimino, a junior and Sociology major states how the refund money is needed for essentials, “I need that refund check to help me be stable financially throughout the semester. I don’t work during semesters because I need to focus on my classes. Knowing now that I don’t have to accept the refund so it doesn’t add to more debt is sort of a good tip to have, but I feel like it’s totally unfair that using that refund for school-related essentials will add more debt. I’m just trying to get my education. I feel like I’m being punished. ”
Students at the discussion understand more work needs to be done to solve the student debt crisis, but Lowery needs answers sooner rather than later as her debt continues to rise.
“I don’t think it’s fair and I think that something should definitely be done.” Lowery quotes.