Student debt is on the rise at East Tennessee State University.
Like other universities across the nation, more students are relying on loans to complete college degrees.
“Fortunately, I don’t have any student loan debt,” said Nick Mitchell, an ETSU alumnus. “One of my friends graduated from ETSU with almost $90,000 in student loan debt. That number is mind boggling, especially since ETSU is currently the lowest price four-year university in the state.”
According to the ETSU 2012 Fact Book, the amount of guaranteed federal student loan awards has been climbing from year to year.
In the 2007-08 academic year, these awards totaled $20.2 million.
That number has tripled in the last four years, with that amount now reaching more than $63.3 million.
Mitchell, who works as an admission representative for Tusculum College in Greenville, Tenn., said there are several students who come in and max out loans to get a balance check, or refund.
Although they may intend to use it for school expenses, Mitchell says most of the time he sees that students’ money just goes to the mall or electronics shops for things that are not necessary. This is a trend he observed when he attended ETSU as well.
“That’s the absolute worst thing [someone] can do,” Mitchell said. “You’re setting yourself up for a world of pain when you graduate and realize how tough it is to find a job.”
On the flip side of the coin, some students feel like loans are necessary for finishing their education.
“To finish my four-year degree, I needed to assume the debt,” said Janie Anderson, a 2008 graduate of ETSU. “The loans were a godsend for finishing my education. Without them, I would still be dreaming about completing my BBA in accounting.”
Some ETSU students live outside of Tennessee, and they end up taking out loans because tuition is higher for them.
“[I’m an] out-of-state student,” said Jacob Broge, a current ETSU student. “I will have almost $60,000 in student loans by the time I graduate.”
The figures from the Fact Book also include graduate students. Graduate school at ETSU costs slightly more, and some who earned their undergraduate degrees without having to take out student loans had to take them out in order to finish their graduate degrees.
“I graduated in 2005 with no loans for my undergrad,” said Laura Barrett, a former ETSU student. “I never once needed them. Grad school was an entirely different matter.”
Some other students are trying to avoid loans at all costs. Sara Larabee, a junior at ETSU who is studying merchandising, plans to graduate in 2014 with absolutely no debt.
“Growing up, I always told [my parents] that I’d be paid to go to college,” Larabee said. “I think student loans are hard because you end up getting a job and being in debt for something that is supposed to help you get ahead. I understand sometimes student loans are necessary but I think they should be a last resort.”
ETSU adds to the national level of outstanding student debt, which was reported to be about $870 billion dollars in 2012 by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
The financial aid office tries to let students know loans are not the only way to pay for school. “Our office encourages students to exhaust other methods of funding prior to requesting a loan,” said ETSU’s financial aid office in a released statement. “This funding type can be in the form of scholarships [or] grants.”
Students are not neglecting this form of funding. According to the fact book statistics, there were more than 6,000 Pell Grant awards given to students for a total of $23.9 million dollars. Another 986 awards were given through the Federal Work Study (FWS) program. These awards totaled approximately $1.3 million dollars.
There are other awards available through state programs as well. Students maintaining a 2.75 GPA for their first 48 hours, and a 3.0 between 72 and 120 attempted hours, are eligible for $2,000 a semester through the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship. At ETSU there were more than $20 million in awards given out for the TELS.
The first step for all of these grants and loans is to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid application at the beginning of each calendar year.
Larabee said there are ways for students to avoid most debt.
“There are a lot of websites with unclaimed scholarships, so never stop applying,” Larabee said. “Most businesses around Johnson City work well with students, so try to find a part-time job. You may have to miss out on some stuff, but you won’t have to start out your life after graduation already in debt.”