OU Examines Student Debt Load

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It’s no secret that student debt has been a hot topic across the nation and on the Ohio University campus. To address the situation, a work group of OU deans, vice provosts and associate provosts have been examining how debt among OU grads stacks up to those who graduate from other public colleges and how the issue might be improved.

In a memo to the OU Board of Trustees last month, OU Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit wrote that the situation surrounding student indebtedness is a national concern.

She said the upcoming “Ohio Guarantee” tuition model that the university hopes to implement by fall 2015 will help students and their families with long-term planning for education financing.

The new tuition program would be the first among Ohio public colleges and universities and would lock incoming undergraduates into a flat rate for tuition, fees and room and board for four years.

Benoit also pointed out that the university is working to restructure its financial aid programs to make it more accessible for more students.

Included in the materials for next week’s OU Board of Trustees meeting is a report from the work group that Benoit tasked with evaluating the student indebtedness situation among OU students. Dean Dennis Irwin is expected to present the work group’s findings with the board next week.

According to the workgroup, the average student debt of an Ohio University graduate was $26,909 in 2011.

The average student debt among eight public higher education institutions in Ohio was $26,881 in 2011 and OU ranked sixth in highest indebtedness among those institutions.

In 2012, OU’s average student debt was $27,060 compared to the $27,990 average among the eight institutions. Nationally, 71 percent of students who graduated in 2012 had student debt with an average of $29,400. The state average student debt is $29,037.

“Thus, although the average indebtedness among the eight increased by 4.12 percent, the increase in Ohio University students’ debt only increased by 0.56 percent, the second lowest increase among the eight,” states a memo from the work group.

The work group also discovered that the rate of student debt among OU students (excluding students in the OU Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine) increased at a higher rate than tuition and fees at OU.

“…Neither tuition and fees nor total cost of attendance are good indicators of trends in student indebtedness at Ohio University. In fact, as both of these indicators slowed their rate of increase from 2007 to 2012, student indebtedness accelerated…Since during most of the period 2007 to 2012, the national economy has either been in recession or a modest recovery, it is likely that the swift rate of increase in student debt over those years is due to recessionary effects,” the work group reported.

According to the group, there is “anecdotal evidence to indicate that students and families take on more debt than is necessary for college attendance simply because they qualify for large loan amounts.” The group emphasized that this strategy is “rarely a sound decision for the student.”

However, the work group discovered that OU’s medical student debt appears to be more in line with the price of tuition.

“It is likely that Heritage College students are managing debt appropriately,” states information provided in the board materials.

It also states that debt for students at OU-HCOM is “significantly lower than for students at other medical schools in the state of Ohio.”

The work group determined that OU has a limited number of tools to help alleviate student debt, but pointed out the importance of scholarships and proposed providing personal finance instruction to students to better manage their debt.

“This instruction could range from short, focused workshops all the way to a full course in personal finance,” the memo says.

The OU Board of Trustees will meet on the Athens campus Thursday and Friday.