Student loan borrowing drops at GW, mirroring nationwide trend

Media Credit: Yonah Bromberg Gaber | Graphics Editor

Source: Department of Education Report

Fewer students are borrowing money from the federal government to attend college.

A new report from the Department of Education found that 38 percent of students took out student loans in the 2015-16 academic year, down from 42 percent four years earlier.

At GW, 31 percent of full-time undergraduates took out loans in the 2015-16 academic year, a 4 percent drop from 2011-12, according to Laurie Koehler, the vice provost for enrollment management and retention.

Experts and students said the drop reflects a growing desire among students to attend schools that offer more generous financial aid packages and to use scholarships and grants – rather than loans – to finance their education.

Koehler said graduating with little to no debt is the “number one thing we hear when we counsel students and families about financing a college education.” Families are also looking to other financial aid tools, including awards and scholarships, to help fund a college education, she said.

“We recognize that higher education is a significant investment for students and their families,” she said in an email.

Experts said the drop is likely linked to a national trend in which students are opting to attend universities that give them more beneficial financial aid packages, allowing them to avoid taking out loans and the burden of student debt.

Hardin Coleman, a professor of counseling psychology at Boston University, said nationally, universities have attempted to increase the amount of financial aid they’re able to provide, which would deter students from taking out student loans.

Last year, the University’s financial aid pool skyrocketed to $297 million, the largest one-year increase in recent years.

He said students also play a role and that recently, students have been choosing to attend schools that offer them larger financial aid packages so that they don’t need to take out loans.

“People began to realize that it may be a wiser financial decision to stay home and do their associate’s degree at their local community college and then finish at a four-year college rather than take on the full debt of a four-year college,” he said.

Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University, said the decreased interest in loans is likely the result of a decreased enrollment in colleges and universities nationally.

“I’m concerned about students borrowing too little money, in some cases, and working too much during college,” he said. “I think they’re better off taking out a loan and getting out of school faster.”

Students who take out loans said they’ve tried to decrease the amounts they’re borrowing because of a recent national focus on the negative effects of debt on their lives after graduation.

Alarin Carthan, a sophomore in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences who has taken out two federal loans that were included in her financial aid package when she started GW, said she has been trying to scale back borrowing recently.

“I have been trying to cut back on loans because I have a scholarship that has helped a lot, so I’m trying not to take out any more than these two,” she said.

McKenzie Swain, a sophomore in the Elliott School of International Affairs, said students may be concerned about taking out loans after reading horror stories told online of students not being able to pay back their loans.

Nationwide, there are more than 17 million student loan borrowers under the age of 30, who hold a total of $376.3 billion in debt, according to a recent CNBC report.

“There’s this joke everywhere about being in debt for the rest of your life and not being able to pay it off,” she said. “But we’ve seen the evidence and it’s scary.”

Swain – who is paying to attend the University on her own through federal loans and financial aid – said she would like to take out fewer loans, but financial demands on food and housing increase every year.

“I think students are now realizing all this so they’re finding ways to cut back like completing two years at a community college first then transferring to a four-year institution or staying closer to home,” she said.

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