In tough economy, students graduate early to avoid debt

By Jamie Blynn

The GW Hatchet, George Washington U. via UWIRE

Grace Warrick can’t justify staying in college for another five months – not when it comes with George Washington U’s price tag.

Warrick said she would rather jump-start her job search instead of continuing to pile on debt for another semester, noting that graduating early was a better option than finishing an eighth semester, which would have forced her to take out a small loan.

“Even though I have had a fantastic experience at GW and love being a student, I am more comfortable supporting myself with the money I will save, rather than going into debt or job searching under immense pressure,” Warrick said. “It also means a lot to my family for me to finish my undergraduate degree within my budget.”

Thinking of savings and debt, she set herself on a track to graduate early during her sophomore year, a plan she formalized this semester.

Although GW is no longer the most expensive university in the country, the cost of attending has discouraged some students from staying for four years. Current seniors pay fixed tuition and fees of $40,437 yearly – a figure that rose to $44,148 for the Class of 2015.

Of students who entered the University since 2003, 520 students graduated early, internal data show. Seventy-five members of the Class of 2011, or 3.5 percent, completed requirements in three years or fewer – down from the year before, when 4.6 percent of students in the Class of 2010 graduated two or more semesters early.

University statistics do not distinguish between students who graduate in seven semesters from those who graduate in eight. Data for three-and-a- half-year graduates of the current senior class, who entered college as the economy slipped into recession, will be lumped with those who finished in four years when data are released.

Placing a national spotlight on student debt concerns, President Barack Obama launched the “We Can’t Wait” campaign to reduce student debt earlier this month, changes a University administrator said would benefit few on campus.

Students have expressed similar concerns about college costs. Most adults ages 18 to 34 consider college harder to afford than it was five years ago, according to a report by The Institute for College Access and Success released Nov. 9. Of those surveyed, 73 percent said graduates accrue more student debt than they can manage.

“In general, factors such as tuition, availability of grant aid and income background all influence the level of debt,” the institute’s program director Matthew Reed said.

Senior Alex Pazuchanics also said he plans to graduate early to avoid debt and enter the job market as early as possible.

He adjusted his class schedules to ensure he’d be able to graduate in less time, a choice that geared his courses to be more “vocational” and prevented him from taking others that would “expand his horizons,” he said.

“I think that there are opportunities that I probably would have taken advantage of had the cost structure been different,” he said. “Debt is scary for all of us,” he added.

More than half of the District’s college students graduate with debt, according to 2011 data from the Project on Student Debt. Students in D.C. with loans have, on average, $24,191 in debt – the 17th highest figure in the nation.

While the University’s Office of Financial Aid tries to maintain enrollment by meeting the needs of students, it must stay within its “federal and institutional guidelines, as well as the University’s aid allocation in granting assistance,” Dan Small, vice president of financial assistance, said.

“We try our very best to bridge the gap in what the family can pay and the cost of education,” Small said. “It is an individual decision as to whether a student chooses to graduate early to save money or stays to receive the full college experience.”

For Warrick, trading in a full college experience for a future without debt is worthwhile sacrifice that will allow her to pursue a career on her own terms.

“I think the decision is personal and totally unique to each individual’s situation,” she said. “I’m much more comfortable in this situation.”

Read more here: http://www.gwhatchet.com/2011/11/21/in-tough-economy-students-graduate-early-to-avoid-sinking-in-debt/
Copyright 2014 The GW Hatchet

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