Amid the noisy rush of starting college, incoming students are encountering a cautionary voice about their future. Once called the “safest debt” to have, student loans are now the subject of repeated exposés warning students of a disastrous road ahead for their personal finances and, national stability.
Northwestern grads have lower loan debt, more learning options
Evaluating the financial landscape at Northwestern, the Institutional Research Office calculated that UNW graduates left with an average $22,235 of loan debt last spring, nearly $10,000 less than the 2013 average for Minnesota institutions ($31,497) and almost $7,000 less than average loan debt for Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) ($29,075) and national private colleges ($29,400) .
Even with significantly lower debt averages at Northwestern and a competitively low tuition among peers, President Alan S. Cureton offered earnest response to student financial realities in his 2012 Op-ed.:
“We believe that addressing the student loan crisis begins on campus in an environment of transparency that focuses on reducing students’ uncertainty and confusion around taking out loans and gives them a road map to minimize their debt after graduation.”
Last month, students and local leaders spent time with financial voice Rachel Cruze in chapel and a special seminar, talking about loans, costs and realistic payment principles. UNW also offers a net price calculator tool for incoming freshman and transfer students to estimate their eligible aid ahead of time. Alternative education paths like PSEO, Early College for high school students; Degree in Three, online learning and Dual B.A./M.Div. Degree have fast tracked many students to graduation.
As Northwestern graduates enter the job market with degrees in hand, they will find local advantages, according to Georgetown University’s Failure to Launch study and Recovery state report. By 2020, 74% of Minnesota jobs will require postsecondary education, with a national average of 65% . And currently, Minneapolis–St. Paul is the metropolitan area with the highest employment rate for 21 to 30-year-olds at 80% .
Northwestern alumna and scholarship expert Hannah Rivard ‘12, now a writer for The Defender Foundation, tackled college costs with unconventional zeal, but looking back she offered relatable insight to students just starting to encounter the cost question:
1. Fully investigate and acknowledge the cost and demands of repayment.
“One of the biggest issues I see with students is them simply not acknowledging the reality of how much school must cost. Only with that full knowledge and walking into the situation with their eyes wide open will students be able to be motivated to do what is necessary to reduce college debt.”
Get practical: Calculate your college costs, your current assets, and the gap you will need to fill with work, scholarships or loans using a worksheet like this. Calculating the numbers and seeing the totals will provide accountability and motivation.
2. Make a payment plan ahead of time to prevent financial stress on top of school stress.
“Because I worked so hard at funding college through scholarships, I had no problems with financial issues at Northwestern. I didn't feel pressured to have to work or even take a summer job because college was entirely paid for. This was an incredible blessing to me and one I would encourage students to think about—the advantage of having an attainable way to pay for college in place before they enter school will remove a great deal of stress when you're actually in school.”
Get practical: Write down a list of payment possibilities (jobs, scholarships, contests etc.) that you could act on tomorrow and take this list to your parents or a trusted mentor for accountability and guidance.
3. Balance your ideal with your resources and willingness to work.
“Think of your ideal situation — if money were no object, where would you go and what would you study? —and then make a concerted effort and plan to make that ideal situation happen. If that plan does not appear to be working or attainable after a certain amount of time, then you need to start taking a look at what you are willing to sacrifice so that you can balance the education you want with the affordability you need!”
Get practical: Make sure your payment plan is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound and then take steps as soon as possible to commit to it. Also, commit to evaluating each year/semester with parents or mentors to stay on track during college.
Get the details on scholarships, financial aid and cost at Northwestern.