A growing number of public universities graduates will owe over $35,000 in student loans. According to a College Board and Advocacy Center (CBAC) study released on April 26, 12 percent of students who received bachelor’s degrees from public schools during the 2007- 2008 school year left with a $35,000 burden. Seventeen percent of all graduates from private non-profit and for-profit schools incurred the largest amount of debt.
University of California students borrow less than the national average, according to Ricardo Vazquez, director of admissions and ethnic media relations at the UC Office of the President. Vazquez said only three percent of the UC graduating class in 2008-09 had debt of more than $35, 000 while nearly half of the class had no debt at all.
According to the CBAC report, certain groups of students are more likely than others to borrow more during college. Notably, 23 percent of all black students who received a bachelor’s degree at public universities in 2008 had high levels of debt, compared to 11 percent of Caucasian, 8 percent of Latino and 3 percent of Asian students. Independent students in all racial categories were more likely to owe more.
“We do not have evidence about the causes of racial differences in borrowing,” said Sandy Baum, an independent policy analyst at CBAC who co-authored the report entitled, “Who borrows most? Bachelor’s degree recipients with high levels of student debt.”
“Potential explanations include lower asset levels among black families with similar current incomes, differences in the proportion of students living at home while they are in college, differences in work patterns during college and differences in attitudes about debt,” Baum said.
Independent students were more likely to borrow because they generally do not receive help with tuition from their families, Baum added.
Philip Adams is an independent student who is transferring to San Francisco State to pursue a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
“I am a veteran so my tuition is covered by the new G.I. Bill,” Adams said.
Adams does not believe college is affordable to many people.
“The military is not an option for everyone. People are disabled or they can’t handle the stress of military life,” Adams said. “How are people going to get ahead [after college] if they are working to pay off large loans?”
Baum said students should use all of the federal loan money available to them before turning to private lenders.
“A very rough guideline is that if your debt looks like it will be more than your expected annual salary in the first few years after college, you might want to look for other options,” she said. “Students need to understand that paying for college means spending less on other things for some period of time.”
Daniel Larkin, a recent UCD graduate with a degree in environmental policy and planning, said he took student loans to pay for college.
“Yes, there is pressure. I have to make money to pay my loans off,” he said. “But I am really excited about post-grad life. I am more excited about the possibilities than worried about being in debt for the rest of my life.”
CBAC supports financial aid distribution reforms, Baum said.
“The College Board supports generous Pell Grant funding and efficient use of taxpayer dollars,” she said. “Borrowing for college is a good investment.”
Students should borrow cautiously and moderately, Baum said.
SAMUEL A. COHEN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.