Colleges aim to hold grads’ debt in checkBy Sheldon C. Good Mennonite World Review
Amid rising concern about student debt, Mennonite colleges stress the power of financial aid to make their brand of higher education affordable.
“The majority of our students are coming [to Bethel] cheaper than [if they had gone] to a state school,” said Tony Graber, director of financial aid at Bethel College in North Newton, Kan.
Still, most Mennonite college graduates leave campus with a load of debt.
In 2011, the average debt of those who took out loans to graduate from a four-year U.S. Mennonite college ranged from $15,000 to $34,000. That doesn’t include money borrowed from parents.
Though 16 percent to 29 percent of undergraduates who get degrees at Mennonite colleges don’t borrow at all, most take out loans requiring years to repay.
“Debt is an issue we’ve become extraordinarily sensitive to,” said Michele Hensley, director of financial assistance at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va. “I have never seen the kind of attention that it’s getting now.”
Attention spread nationally this spring as students held demonstrations April 25, the day total U.S. student loan debt was expected to reach $1 trillion. President Obama made speeches on several college campuses urging Congress to extend the current interest rate for federally subsidized student loans. The rate, which was reduced to 3.4 percent in 2007, is set to double in July for new loans. The White House says an increase would affect 7.4 million students and cost each an average $1,000 over the life of their loans.
The House of Representatives passed a bill extending the lower rate for a year. The Senate failed to take up a bill May 8.
Among Mennonite colleges, Goshen (Ind.) College had the lowest percentage of 2011 graduates — 71 percent — who borrowed. And those who did had an average indebtedness of $21,800.
U.S. News & World Report ranks Goshen as a “least-debt college,” 17th among those it defines as “national liberal arts colleges.”
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