When packaging post-Baylor debt, Where do you get your information?

Mountain of Debt FTWBy Samuel Prillaman and
Jake Hicks

Students attend college to learn, however in almost half of the country’s colleges, they are kept in the dark instead.

Since most colleges elect to keep student debt information private, there is no set national requirement. However, the national average student-load debt is increasing. In many cases, this leaves third-party watchdogs such as The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) to fill the gap. Colleges provide a common data set that these organizations use to gather their statistics.

The Project on Student Debt report is an evaluation by TICAS of that common data set. Using data compiled by Peterson’s Undergraduate Financial Aid and Undergraduate Databases, the Project on Student Debt provides a comprehensive breakdown of reported national and state student debt information.

According to Peterson’s, in 2011, only 55 percent of four-year accredited, nonprofit colleges, both public and private, in the U.S. reported data about their graduates’ debt. Of those that submitted data, 64 of these colleges had 90 percent of graduates leaving with debt.

The cost of Texas universities varies greatly. With the yearly undergraduate cost of attendance (COA) passing $51,214 in 2012 – 2013, Baylor ranks among the most expensive schools in Texas. Other expensive schools include Southern Methodist University and Rice University that have a COA of $61,567 and $52,242, respectively. Texas Christian University falls under Baylor with a COA of $46,350. All of these figures are much larger than public universities such as Sam Houston State University, $20,876, and University of Texas-Austin $26,340. All independently reported 2012 – 2013 COA values were higher than the 2010-2011 COA according to the Project on Student Debt information.

And as national student debt has increased, some students who didn’t plan on borrowing money had to make quick decisions.

Baylor alumnae Hannah Hall said, “I wasn’t in need of student loans until my senior year, and even with only that year to pay off, I’m looking at losing a lot of my savings for the next five to 10 years.”

Many students are turning to multiple loans to make ends meet. The Wall Street Journal reported “the number of consumers with two or more open student loans on their credit report grew from 12 million in 2005 to 26 million in 2012.” This number is more than double the number of students with multiple college loans in 2005.

“I was put in a situation where multiple loans were probably needed, but looking at the varying interest rates and time to pay off the debt, it seemed easier for me to cover what I could out of pocket and just take on one massive loan,” Hall said.

Hall’s situation is hardly unique. In Texas alone, college graduates in 2011 owed $22,140 on average, according to the Project on Student Debt. This number was calculated using voluntary reporting and only represents 46 out of the 90 Texas colleges.

Baylor University is one of the other 44 colleges in Texas who do not voluntarily report graduates’ debt.

One common misconception is that Baylor’s lack of reporting is due to being a private college. While many public colleges, such as Texas A&M University, report debt information, many private universities comparable to Baylor also submit debt information.

In recent years, the administrations for Texas Christian University, Southern Methodist University and University of Mary Hardin-Baylor all reported student debt information.

Baylor financial services was unavailable for an interview, but director of media communications Lori Fogleman was able to supply some statistics, saying, “90% of the undergraduate students receive some form of financial assistance,” Fogleman said. Fogleman also said that 7,050 students at Baylor receive need-based financial aid.

A lack of reported debt information has led some Baylor alumni to turn online for comparative information. Some Baylor alumni who subscribe to BaylorFans.com have posted their debt information online, in an effort to compare with other graduates.

Many of the students who posted their debt information online were unaware of the massive effect loan debt would have on their life. And most students have already chosen a path when the final bill comes, whether or not they understood the cost of that path before they start college.

Baylor Law School alumnae Courtney Dickey said, “I knew how much school was going to cost when I first applied and knew I needed to take out loans to pay for the next three years. I guess what surprised me was just how long it was going to take to pay it all back and how much of it was interest.” Though she was not willing to talk about her annual salary, Dickey did say 10 percent of her paycheck is spent on student loan repayment. “It’s just funny to think of how I was excited to get such a high paying job once I graduated, that I never stopped to think that my salary was going to pay my loan that I took out just to get the education for the high paying job.”

The reality for Baylor students may set in during the mandatory exit interview for students who borrow from the university. While these mandatory meetings may instruct exiting students on their obligations, the information comes after any decisions are made.

This information may be a factor in the recent growth of student loan deferment. A national analysis by TransUnion found more than half of student loan accounts – 65.5 million of 128.8 million – are in deferment, as reported by the Huffington Post. The government run student aid website says “A deferment is a period during which repayment of the principal and interest of your loan is temporarily delayed.”

Though this may seem like a reasonable choice to make straight out of college, the requirements for deferment are steep and it doesn’t necessarily mean enough money can be saved in order to cover the debt.

“I planned on deferring when I graduated, but once I realized I barely met the qualifications and that after a year I was going to have to pay them anyway, I might as well just get it over with now instead of keep on pushing it off till I can’t pay them off,” Hall said.