Tuition fees exceed aid

AKRON, Ohio – Tuitions are rising, but the amounts of state and federal grants and scholarships aren’t, which means more and more students are borrowing money to get through college.

Loan management may be as critical to students’ futures as what they do in the classroom.

Scholarships, grants and savings often don’t stretch far enough to cover what colleges refer to as the cost of attendance.

For example, the average loan level for a student graduating from the University of Akron is $14,000, according to Doug McNutt, director of the school’s Office of Student Financial Aid and Employment. With students sometimes spreading their education out over several years, McNutt said, debt levels of $30,000 to $40,000 are not uncommon.

Financial counseling for students receiving federally insured loans is required. Students get some basic counseling when they first enroll. When they graduate, a financial aid officer outlines repayment options.

“We try to give that type of information,” McNutt said, so students aren’t surprised when it comes time to pay. Brochures are handed out, and students are encouraged to run their loan amounts through a calculator to get an idea of how much repayment might cost.

Still, “most students seem to be pretty present-minded,” McNutt said, and the reality of repayment may not sink in.

Just ask LaTonya Myers of Akron, who may well be in her early 60s by the time she repays her student loans.

Her first semester at Kent State was debt-free, but at the beginning of 1990, she started borrowing. By the time she graduated in December 2000 with a master’s degree in business administration, her student loan debt was about $90,000.

In 2001, she was faced with repayment requests from five lenders. Myers made partial payments until she could consolidate her loans into one, with a 7.9 percent interest rate. In July, she made the first monthly payment of $690. She has 29 years and nine months to go.

Repaying her loans will cost Myers more than $250,000.

“Hey, I went to Kent State. I didn’t go to Harvard,” the Akron resident said of the total cost.

She’s employed as the human resources manager for a Cleveland manufacturer, and plans to take a second job to make extra money.

Single and an apartment dweller, she has no plans to buy a home. “I already have a mortgage – these student loan payments,” she said.

Courses in managing finances should be mandatory for college students, Myers said.

“I want other people to know about the dangers of student loans and not managing that process and the borrowing because they may end up in a situation where they have a good job with a good income but they’re struggling to make their payments and they’re sacrificing other things like buying a home.”