Student financial aid is on the rise

The number of college students taking out loans to finance their education has skyrocketed despite the leveling of college costs in recent years, according to a report.

According to the October report, universities handed out a record $64 billion in financial aid last year. Student loans made up the bulk of the money. On average, individual students at public institutions received about $3,350 in federal loans. Private universities granted almost five times that amount, totaling close to $15,400 a student.

I would say that GW is typical of a private institution when it comes to student loans, said Daniel Small, GW’s director of student financial assistance. We might be a little bit higher. I would say that GW students average about $16 to 17,000 in loans.

Federal loans are the most popular and accessible types of student loans, Small said. The two most common federal loans are Perkins and Stafford loans. Most students opt for Stafford loans because they are easier to obtain and usually offer larger money grants.

Nonetheless, students and collegiate administrators said repaying federal loans can be stressful.

The fact that everybody needs to go to college to get a middle-class job . the fact that you have to borrow more than you used to, this is a problem, said Patrick Callan, who runs the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, in the report.

GW students said they have the same financial worries as students do nationwide.

I’m getting close to 12-grand a year (in federal loans), said freshman Andy Wilson. And that’s going to be close to $50,000 when I graduate. I’m always worrying how I’m going to be able to pay back that money. It’s always hanging over my head.

Other students said they take a different approach to strategizing about loan repayment.

I really don’t think about it all that much, because when I do, it starts to give me a headache, freshman Dave Kay said. I mean, what’s the possibility that I’ll be making $50,000 right off the bat following graduation? And forget about saving money.

GW’s Office of Financial Assistance has made strides to combat the painful student loan experience, Small said.

GW students are encouraged to participate in entrance interviews, which are handled by government loan organizations to provide financial guidance. If they do receive loans, students must participate in an exit interview to plan a graduating student’s payback schedule.

We try to educate students about the positives and drawbacks of federal loans as much as possible, Small said. GW offers several loan packages that try to meet the students’ needs, including a self-help component involving work-study programs.

GW’s 2.4-percent default rate is one of the lowest rates in the country, according to financial aid officials. The low default rate reflects the high number of employment opportunities students have immediately following graduation, Small said.

Loans are based on the idea that we are using students’ future earnings as collateral, and GW graduates have an exceptional track record in repaying those loans, Small said.

Students who receive federal loans have 10 years after graduation to repay the loans following a six-month grace period, during which the government repays all interest collected on the loan. This system allows students to settle into a post-college routine, including finding housing and employment.

Despite the increasing costs of attending college, College Board President Gaston Caperton said the gains outweigh the sacrifices, according to

During a 40-year career, the difference in earnings between a high school and college education is about $1 million, Caperton said.

That’s the value of a college education, he said. I don’t know anywhere in the world where you can make an investment and make that kind of return.

Some students said they aren’t convinced.

When it comes to loans, I’m screwed, said one junior, who wished to remain anonymous. I haven’t even begun to figure out how much I owe, and until I pay it, GW is getting absolutely zero donations from me.

Although GW has made great strides to ease the process of repaying loans, Small said there are less stressful routes.

The more you can stay away from loans, the better, he said.

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