Graduation bittersweet with loans, student says

Books and supplies: $810.Dining plan: $2,800.

Degree from TCU: $116,440.

Getting out of debt before retirement: priceless.

December is a month away and graduation for some seniors is in the not-so-distant future – followed closely by a bill for their education at TCU.

With the increasing cost of tuition, students are requesting more and more loans to help pay for their education, said Mike Scott, director of financial aid.

Loans are given based on financial need and make it possible for some students to attend universities such as TCU – but they eventually must be paid back, he said.

The tab students accumulate over a four-year span is often overwhelming, said Sean Sloan, a senior marketing major.

“It’s a huge burden for students just out of college to figure out how to pay it all back,” Sloan said. “On top of trying to find a job after graduation, we have to figure out how to pay off our debts.”

Between federal, state, private and TCU loans, scholarships and grants, more than $127 million was given to TCU students last year, Scott said.

If all aid were divided evenly among the more than 8,000 students at TCU, each student would receive about $63,500 toward a four-year degree.

According to the TCU Web site, the average cost of a degree is $116,440. That leaves students with a $52,940 bill to pay.

“Check please!” has never been such a painful phrase, said Andrea Broadbent, a senior fashion merchandising major.

Broadbent said graduation is becoming bittersweet with the reality of going into the real world with all her debt in tow.

“When I got to college, my education was the most important thing,” Broadbent said. “As I’m getting ready to leave college, figuring out how I’m going to pay for that education has become the most important thing.”

Aisha Whitaker, a senior sociology major, said she wasn’t thinking about the amount of debt she would leave TCU with when she filled out an application.

As graduation day approaches, it’s on her mind a lot, Whitaker said.

“I’m going to be paying back my loans for the rest of my life,” Whitaker said. “That’s really scary.”

According to TCU’s 2005 Form 990, a report that nonprofit organizations must file with the IRS, the university awarded about $30 million in loans and other financial aid in 2005.

The amount of aid TCU offers shows that the university is working with students to make the task of paying for college a little bit easier, Sloan said.

While TCU may be doing its part, a College Board press release states that some federal loan programs aren’t helping as much as they have in the past.

According to the College Board Web site, the value of federal loans is not keeping up with inflation and the rapid increase of the cost of attending college.

This contributes to the increasing number of students seeking aid from private education loans. Private loans usually have higher interest rates than federal loans, placing students further into debt.

According to the press release, 23 percent of students from private nonprofit colleges graduated with at least $30,000 of debt.

Despite the daunting task of paying off this debt, Sloan said that not going to college is not an option for most young people.

“This day and age, getting a college degree is a must,” he said. “We aren’t just competing with people in Texas or the United States. Anyone in the world can get a college education.”

Sloan said although it is hard for students to manage their finances with ease, getting an education at TCU is too important to pass up.

Whitaker said she agrees, saying some students find that the opportunities obtained by receiving a degree outweigh the burden of debt.

Scott cautions students to be reasonable in the amount of money they borrow but says a college education is well worth what’s spent.

“I firmly believe that a student loan is the best investment you will ever make,” he said.