Lower tuition rates do not ensure less student debt

With the average salary of college graduates decreasing and loans increasing, the prospect of successful finances after commencement has been diminished.

Oswego State students, may be surprised to find out the tuition deals they thought they were getting by attending Oswego, may not be such a steal after all, when compared to other SUNY schools Oswego does not stack up, according to a study released by The Project on Student Debt.

Although Oswego State boasts a competitive tuition rate, with tuition and fees 13 percent less than the average national tuition rate for four-year public universities, Oswego State graduates actually had on average 2.7 percent more debt than the national average that included both public and private universities.

Although Oswego State’s average of $25,931 in student loans per graduate is better than the New York state average of $26,271 in 2010, Oswego’s average did not fare well compared to other SUNY schools. Of the 15 SUNY schools in which average student loans were reported, Oswego graduates had more debt on average than all but two, which were SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), and SUNY Fredonia.

These levels of debt were recorded before the increases to Oswego State tuition this year, so 2011 graduates will likely face even steeper bills.

With the national unemployment rate at nine percent many students are worried about what sort of job market they will be entering upon graduation.

A survey taken this spring by Rutgers University provided a less-than-optimistic view of U.S. college graduates’ job prospects. The survey included graduates from the class of 2007 through 2010 and found that a full 16 percent have no kind of employment at all.

The survey also found that the median salary of 2010 graduates was only $27,000, compared to the $30,000 received by the class of 2007.

Federal loans give students a six-month grace period after graduation before they have to start making payments, but the same survey found that only 69 percent of graduates from 2007 onwards received employment in the first six months following graduation.

President Obama recently introduced a plan to reduce the minimum payments students must make on federal student loans from 15 percent to 10 percent of income.

Economics professor and chair of the Oswego State Economics Department, Ranjit Dighe, said “15 percent, or even 10 percent, is a big pinch if one is barely earning enough to make ends meet.”

It had been beneficial to Carrie Seeley, an Oswego State and new mother, lost who her job after they were unwilling to work with her school schedule.

“I have maxed out my student loans,” she said in an email. “This has been a saving grace and just enough to maintain my livelihood during my studies. However the part of the loan with a 5 percent interest rate [unsubsidized Stafford Loan] throughout the four years of study is ridiculous. This makes approximately 10-15 thousand dollars increase $3,000.”

“On average, college graduates earn about… $28,600 [more] per year, enough to pay off the debt all at once. As a percentage of the total wage premium earned by college graduates over 40 to 50 years of working, $26,000 is hardly anything. But the devil is in the details: That $28,600 yearly-wage premium is the average of all college graduates, including people in their 40s and 50s.”

With salary and employment decreasing for recent college graduates and tuition rates rising much faster than inflation, some students find themselves wondering whether college is really worth the price tag.

Senior Benjamin Harrison chose to spend a year at community college to alleviate the costs of college.

“As a senior about to graduate, I’ve only racked up about $18,000 in loans. Anyone that complains that college is too expensive should change their major to something more profitable,” Harrison said. “It’s true, that photography degree is probably never going to pay for itself but if you weren’t good enough to get into a better school or get scholarships, you probably shouldn’t be racking up loans for it in the first place.”

Oswego State Director of Financial Aid Mark Humbert disagreed.

“Oswego is very committed to helping students find the best options to pay for college,” Humbert said. “The Financial Aid Office has very helpful information about loans and repayment options on our website. The office staff is available to help students with any questions or concerns they may have about funding their college experience or repaying their loans when they graduate.”

He also noted that “several schools, especially higher cost private colleges, did not report the debt information” and therefore the averages could be inaccurate.

However accurate the report is, with a national total of over $800 billion in student loans (as reported by FinAid.org and FastWeb.com), student debt has surpassed credit card debt in size. And with tuition constantly rising, student debt is expected to keep rising.

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