Tech Seniors Graduating with Debt
Graduation is quickly approaching and besides caps, gowns and tassels turning, for a large percentage of Texas Tech students, graduation means the beginning of their six month student loan grace period.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 46 percent of incoming freshman have federal student loans and this percentage increases to 49 percent after their freshman year. The average loan amount per student for an academic year is $8,251.
Judith Gutierrez, a senior general studies major, said federal grants through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) helped cover her tuition fees until her junior year, but for her senior year she had to get a $5,500 federal loan.
“My dad got a new job, so now I’m in that position that I think a lot of students are,” Gutierrez said, “in where your parents don’t make enough money to pay for your college but, they make too much money to qualify for FAFSA so I had to get a student loan for my last year of college.”
In-state tuition at Tech has increased about four percent from 2013 to this year according to the NCES. Although the low percentage change may not have an enormous negative impact on students, it definitely is not helping them.
Richele Flournoy, a senior university studies major, said she has had federal loans every year since her first semester at Tech because her grants were not enough to cover her housing. She estimates her debt upon graduation to be about $20,000. Flournoy said her lack of education on scholarships and loans is what led her into debt.
“I’m a first generation college student so me going to college was brand new for our family,” Flournoy said, “so I think I was just really not educated in a lot of the areas as far as other options other than loans only because Tech was pushing ‘loans are always available’ ‘loans are always available’ so I just took the loans because that’s basically all that I knew at the time.”
Angela Mazzolini, Program Director of Red to Black, helps students set up repayment plans for their loans based on their expected income after graduation. Mazzolini said many students make poor financial choices because they’re not educated enough about finances and student loans.
“A good time to come visit Red to Black about student loans would be anytime in the process, whether they’re just getting started, because a lot of students will take out more loans than they actually need,” Mazzolini said, “and then they’re left with a lot of repayment that wouldn’t have been necessary had they come talk to us. Create a budget, figure out how much you actually need; at the end we’re happy to help people figure out what their repayment plan is going to be anytime in the process.”
Red to Black services are free to all Tech students, and additionally to loan repayment guidance, they can also help graduating seniors with credit scores, employee benefits and retirement accounts.
Gutierrez said she believes her degree was worth the debt she is in.
“It’s an investment, I mean, yes you’re having to get a loan,” Gutierrez said, “but you’re hopefully getting a better salary out of it in the future than if you didn’t go to college so it’ll definitely pay itself off plus more.”
Flournoy said she is unsure if her loans were worth the degree she will be earning in May.
“What I plan on doing after my undergrad requires that I have an undergrad, I want to go to law school, so I know law school will be worth it,” Flournoy said, “but as far as my degree that I have now, I don’t feel that it’s a unique or special degree to where $20,000 is something that I don’t mind paying back.”