More students forced to borrow for college

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    In the 2003-2004 academic year, nearly 8,000 loans– – totaling more than $50 million- – were taken out by TCU students, according to a report from the Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corp., a nonprofit agency that coordinates transactions between schools and banks in Texas.The report states that the average loan each student takes out for the year was more than $11,000.

    The number of students borrowing money to pay for school, and the amount they are borrowing, has more than doubled in the last 10 years, according to a new report from the American Council on Education.

    There are two reasons why more students are borrowing in greater amounts, said Melet Leafgreen, the assistant director of loans programs in the Office of Scholarships and Student Financial Aid.

    School tuition is increasing, but federal grants are not rising at a comparable rate, Leafgreen said.

    Also, the decline in the economy has caused families to have less money, Leafgreen said, and many times the money they have invested for their children’s education is worth less now than when they began the investments.

    “Loans are a necessary evil,” Leafgreen said.

    Economics instructor John Lovett said a declining economy may have caused a rise in student loans the past four to five years, but the long-term trend affecting student-borrowing is a more expensive university education.

    R. Michael Meyers, a 26-year-old freshman business major, said he had no other choice but to take out student loans, no matter where he went to school.

    Although the Army is paying for his tuition and books, he said he needs the loans to support his wife, a senior at TCU who also has loans, and their child.

    Many students with loans are overwhelmed by all the money they owe.

    “I try not to think about it,” said Matt Petersen, a sophomore premajor.

    This kind of thinking is what lands students in the financial aid office their junior year in disbelief of how much debt they have already accrued, Leafgreen said.

    Sophomore premajor Aaron Agins said his mother persuaded him not to transfer to a state school because, with a TCU education, he would be able to get a good job that would pay off his loans.

    Leafgreen said many students feel pressured when they graduate to start making payments on their loans, which begin six months after graduation.

    “One of the negatives about student-borrowing is (graduates) are given a very short amount of time to find a job and a place to live,” Leafgreen said.

    If the loan payments are not made on time, she said, students can go into default, which damages their credit rating and can make it difficult for them to secure future loans.

    Lovett said students should not worry about relying on loans to get through school.

    “Student loans are an investment – you just have to make sure you get a good return for your money,” he said.

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, college graduates make an average of $47,000 a year, and high school graduates make an average of $29,200, making college for some – student loans and all – a valuable investment.

    Leafgreen offered some simple suggestions for students short on money and worried about student loans.

    “Don’t park where you’re not supposed to, live with your parents if you can, and don’t go nuts at the bookstore,” she said.

    Leafgreen said the financial aid office is always open to students who want to keep updated on the amount of money they owe, and suggested students meet with someone in the office at least once a year to discuss their financial situation.

    “Students wish they didn’t have (loans), but they have enabled students to have an education,” she said.