Students struggle to find solutions to debt

By By Trent Lowe, By Trent Lowe, and By Trent Lowe

By Trent Lowe

With tuition increasing and job outlook decreasing, U students enduring the hard times are scrambling to find answers. Although U prices are much lower than other comparable universities nationwide, most U students are still forced to seek financial aid and brave debt in order to pay tuition and school fees.

Nearly $19,000 in debt, Josh Johnston, a junior in material science and engineering, is struggling to stay afloat with various loans.

“I have taken out loans for everything I have had to pay for in school,” he said. “Every semester thus far, I have had to take out additional loans on top of my Stafford loan in order to pay for all my costs.”

The average debt for a U undergraduate because of Federal Stafford loans is $12,150, compared to $28,550 for graduate students, said Patrick Morgan, assistant manager for Income Accounting and Student Loan Services.

“We in this state are way below the national average in total of loans borrowed,” Morgan said. “Here, the mentality appears to be that borrowing is the last option, but in other states, it’s the first option.”

According to the U’s Office of Budget and Institutional Analysis, about 37 percent of undergraduates were awarded some form of financial aid, resulting in an average annual financial aid package of $9,146. Despite a 9.5 percent legislative cut to the U’s budget, the amount of average financial aid given is up, said John Curl, director of financial aid and scholarships.

“Aid given was pretty steady until this year,” Curl said. “There was a rise in both applicants and disbursements. We can safely say that we’ve seen a 25 percent increase in applications, and disbursements are up 36 percent. More students are applying and those that do are being given more financial aid.”

But Johnston said he sees no end to the tunnel.
“I have gone to the financial aid office for help, but they really only help me apply for more loans,” Johnston said. “I wish I knew of specific places I could go to and apply for scholarships. There is a general list of websites that really aren’t that easy to navigate. I currently have no scholarships, and as an engineering major, it’s hard to maintain a high enough GPA to qualify for scholarships.”

He’s not alone. Jeff Sbaih, who is in his first semester at the U’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, recently took out $37,000 in loans to pay for his first year of law school.

“The first $20,000 is a Stafford loan, and the rest is a GradPLUS loan, another type of federal loan which pays the rest,” Sbaih said. Upon receiving his bachelor’s degree in political science in May, Sbaih said he had $15,000 in Stafford loans and $9,000 in private loans.

“They get deferred for three and a half years,” he said. “So I’ll start paying when my law school loans are due.”

Students are finding ways to survive, however, despite the bleak reality of debt during and after graduation.

“My job is keeping me alive right now, because usually my loans don’t come in before my tuition and other payments are due,” Johnston said. “I am forced to use my paychecks and borrowed money from my parents to pay for school and then use the loans I receive for my living expenses.”