New database helps students prepare for college debt

(James Chan / Xpress)

Andrew Vai, a senior sociology major graduating this spring, said money is always on his mind. After accumulating $15,000 in debt, he lives paycheck to paycheck, struggling to afford everyday expenses.

“I barely get by because I have to think about bills and if I have enough money to pay for rent by the end of the month,” Vai said. “It seems like it’s going to be a lifetime of debt. I know graduates working retail even after getting their degree, and that’s made me think, ‘Am I really spending all this money for tuition to end up in retail?

The U.S. Department of Education has created a streamlined database with access to financial costs and benefits of different colleges for incoming students. The database, College Scorecard, was unveiled by President Barack Obama earlier this month and was created to increase transparency between individual colleges and prospective students.

The scorecard provides federal data on student debt, attendance costs and other factors to help determine the potential return on investment of a degree from each college, according to an article from the Atlantic. Categories examined on the site include cost, financial aid and debt, graduation and retention, earnings after school, student body, SAT/ACT scores and academic programs.

Vai, who transferred to SF State from community college, believes College Scorecard could have helped him if he was an incoming freshman when it was released.

“It makes students conscious financially and that’s hard to teach when you’re young,” Vai said.

Not many students at SF State know about the database, according to Jo Volkert, senior associate vice president for enrollment management.

“The challenge is that students need to be informed about the College Scorecard to make use of it,” Volkert said. “Most students in California are already aware of the options for college – CSU campuses, UC campuses and community colleges, in addition to private colleges. It may have a bigger impact for students in other states.”

The average annual attendance cost at SF State is $14,235, a little more than $2,000 below the national average, according to the database website.

Student loan debt in the U.S. is more than it has ever been, totaling over $1 trillion, with delinquency rates for student loans reaching 10 percent last year, according to a 2014 study by the Council for Independent Colleges.

The scorecard provides data on the average total debt students acquired from each college as well as typical monthly payments necessary to repay student loans after graduation. The median debt for an SF State undergraduate student after graduation is listed at $17,775 on the site, but only includes federal financial aid debt.

The average salary of SF State students 10 years after entering the school is $46,900 according to the website, significantly above the national average of $34,343.

Business marketing major and Spanish minor Nicholas Thomas, who is set to graduate this spring, said he has accumulated about $25,000 in debt. Even after receiving the Pell Grant, Thomas said he had to take out subsidized and unsubsidized loans to afford tuition at SF State.

Thomas said he doesn’t have a job lined up for after graduation and that despite his interest in the field, he is thinking about going into market research because it could help pay off his debt. Thomas also said he is considering getting his master’s degree to delay paying the interest of his unsubsidized loans that will be due when he graduates.

Volkert said it is too early to tell if College Scorecard will impact enrollment totals at SF State since it was just released. Although most of the information the scorecard provides can be found on the SF State website or other places online, Volkert said the site provides access to valuable information in a single place.

The scorecard is a step in the right direction, according to Jimmie Wilder, the associate director of financial aid.

“Only time will tell if Obama’s College Scorecard will keep students out of debt,” Wilder said. “There are so many things to help students deal with debt and this is just another addition to aid that issue.”

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