Debt plagues GW graduates

The average student graduates from GW more than $30,000 in debt – 13 percent higher than the national average at private universities – according to the most recent data from GW and a recent study on collegiate debt.

GW’s Office of Institutional Research reported the average member of the class of 2008 graduated with nearly $17,000 worth of federal student loans and more than $14,000 in private loans, resulting in a total indebtedness of $31,299 upon graduating from GW.

The national average for private, non-profit universities is $27,650, according to the The Project on Student Debt, an initiative of the California-based Institute for College Access and Success.

Edie Irons, the communications director for the Institute for College Access and Success, said that though average debt is on the rise nationally, GW students are taking on more debt than comparative schools.

“The number for GW is significantly above the national average,” Irons said. “Colleges are getting more and more expensive and especially in a tight economy students are relying increasingly on debt to make ends meet and cover all the costs.”

Daniel Small, director of the Office of Student Financial Assistance, said GW’s averages are based on figures for a four or five-year tenure at the University and that his office has worked to reduce the numbers.

“There has been an effort over a period of time to try and control this,” Small said. “Being concerned about the indebtedness, the University has tried to put some strategies in place to do this.”

Average graduated student debt at Georgetown was $24,816 and $19,766 at American, according to 2006 data, the most recent for both schools.

As the economic downturn continues to make finances more difficult for many GW students and their families, many have turned to loans to fill the gap created by financial trouble.

“One thing we don’t know at this time is will the current economy undermine our efforts because students are looking for all sorts of aid,” Small said. “Our hope is that what we have on the table can provide the necessary financial resources so that we can control – and maybe over a period of time, limit – the amount of loan indebtedness for a graduating senior.”

For sophomore Diana Waldron, paying back her postgraduate debt still seems far away.

“I am taking on 8 to 10 percent of the cost of my education, and I haven’t thought about how I am going to pay those loans back,” Waldron said. “Guess we’ll figure that out when I get there.”

Waldron’s father Patrick said although their financial situation has improved, the family still had to make other changes to help pay for their children’s college tuition.

“Our investments have been dramatically reduced,” Patrick Waldron said. “Our aid was reduced a little and we tapped into our savings.”

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