Gatepost survey finds majority of students fear consequences of student debt

By Andrew Willoughby

Arts & Features Editor

Sarah Sousa

Staff Writer

Paola Florencio

Staff Writer

Fifty-six percent of FSU students fear they will have to accept a job they don’t want based on salary because of their student loan debt, according to an unscientific survey conducted by The Gatepost.

The survey of 400 students was administered from Sept. 29 to Oct. 7, 2016.

According to the survey, 76 respondents, or 19 percent, are unsure of their current student loan debt. Sixty-one, or 15 percent, do not know how much they will owe upon graduation.

Twenty-five students, or 6 percent, currently have under $5,000 of student loan debt and 45, or 11 percent, have under $10,000 of student loan debt.

Thirty-four students, or 9 percent, have under $15,000 of student loan debt, 47 students, or 12 percent, have under $20,000 of student loan debt and 34 students, or 9 percent, have under $25,000 of student loan debt. 

Eighteen students, or 5 percent, currently have under $30,000 of student loan debt, 13 students, or 3 percent, currently have under $35,000 of student loan debt and nine students, or 2 percent have under $40,000 of student loan debt.

Seventeen, or 4 percent, currently owe $40,000 or more in student loans.

Seventy-one students, or 18 percent, currently have no student loan debt.

The survey found 54 students, or 14 percent, anticipate no student loan debt upon the time of graduation. Twenty-six students, or 7 percent, anticipate owing under $10,000. Fifty-seven, or 14 percent will owe under $20,000. Ninety-one, or 23 percent, anticipate to owe under $30,000. Fifty-eight, or 15 percent, expect to owe under $40,000. Forty-four, or 11 percent, anticipate over $40,000 of student debt while 66, or 15 percent, don’t know how much they’ll owe upon graduation.

President F. Javier Cevallos said he was surprised by the number of students with this much debt. “It is a higher number than our average debt – in the $20,000 range. It is one more reason for us to continue to work to find funding to keep our costs down.”

Director of Financial Aid Deborah Altsher said the number of students who don’t know their student loan indebtedness is a “reflection on society and financial literacy.”

According to a 2014 survey conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Education (DOE), the statewide average student debt was $29,391 for “public 4-year institutions and private nonprofit 4-year institutions.”

According to the DOE, 65 percent of Massachusetts graduates will leave college with some amount of debt.

Cevallos said the average tuition and fees for public Massachusetts universities have been on the rise. “It is the result of … decreased state funding.  Although, our cost is still very reasonable in comparison with other public and private schools, it is nonetheless significant and places a burden on our students and their futures.”

He added, “It is a national issue. As states have reduced their support of higher education the costs have increased and the debt … has escalated across the nation.”

The average debt of the FSU class of 2014 was $18,027. Nineteen percent of that class had no student debt, according to the DOE.

SGA President Ezequiel De Leon said, “It’s important to be informed about your students loans, so that when you leave our institution you’re prepared to handle the fiscal responsibility associated with our education in the current system.”

Student Trustee Karl Bryan noted 14 percent of students anticipating no student debt after four years is surprisingly high. “That’s great – I just wish it was 100 percent.”

Eric Gustafson, executive director of development and alumni relations, said his department is in the midst of a comprehensive fundraising campaign which has been going on for seven years, accumulating over $12 million.

“Many donors want to support financial aid because they were students here,” he said. “They worked and they struggled with financial aid to pay for school so they understand how hard it is for students to not only succeed academically, but work and try not to graduate with a crushing amount of debt.”

Gustafson said scholarships generated by Alumni Relations “will never run out and there will always be scholarships available. … As long as there is a Framingham State, these scholarships will be available for students.”

The department currently gives out 30 to 40 scholarships each year. “Every $1,000 scholarship is $1,000 that doesn’t have to be borrowed,” he said.

Altsher said there are between 3,800 and 3,900 FSU students who receive some type of financial aid.

The FSU Financial Aid Office encourages all students to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Approximately 80 percent of the student body completes the FAFSA forms, said Altsher.

She said the University hosts FAFSA days on which students can receive assistance filling out the forms and have any questions about it answered.

By filing the FAFSA, students are applying to receive state, federal or institutional money.  This money comes in the form of work studies, grants, scholarships or loans, said Altsher.

She said work study is provided to students who apply for it based on need. Eligibility is determined by factors such as the size of the student’s family, the family’s income and the number of college students in the family.

The DOE gives the Financial Aid office an “allocation of just over $100,000” to use for work study payment, Altsher said. “We’re required to meet 25 percent of that allocation with institutional money. We actually meet it with about 50 percent, so the institution itself puts a lot of money into work study.

“We just don’t get enough [money] from the federal government,” said Altsher.

“When you think about the number of students who want [work study], it doesn’t go very far,” she added.

Altsher said the University provides more money for work study because “students want it. Students need it.  Students need to work. It’s good for the school. It’s good for the students.”

About 200 students are awarded work study and about 175 students are currently employed through the program, said Altsher.

Students currently participating in a work study are completing four to six hours weekly, according to Altsher.

Upon reviewing an application, the Admissions Office determines a student’s eligibility for certain scholarships based upon factors such as financial and academic status. Admissions distributes merit scholarships, said Altsher.

She said the Financial Aid Office manages scholarships and grants based on students’ financial needs. The John and Abigail Adams scholarship is administered by the Financial Aid Office.

According to the DOE, the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship is granted to high school students in the top 25th percentile of their class who have scored advanced and proficient in 3 categories of one of the Massachusetts standardized tests. The recipients are given free tuition to any Massachusetts state institution.

The grants administered based upon financial necessity include Pell Grants, Supplemental Educational Opportunity grants and Framingham State University grants, said Altsher.

These grants range from $100 to $5,000. Students can receive a number of grants at the same time based upon their eligibility for them.

Altsher said students are given plenty of information about the loans they sign for. Sometimes they just don’t accurately read through it.

“They’re definitely given the information, but I think it can be so overwhelming sometimes with the way it’s presented. People kind of look at it and go, ‘Ah! It’s too much!’” said Altsher

She said students should not be afraid to look at their student loan balances. “People have a real fear of finances,” she said.

Susan Massad, food and nutrition professor, who taught a course on consumer economics at FSU, said, “There are so many students who have over $40,000 of debt. This is a state school and should be affordable to everyone. The thing with Massachusetts is that the fees are so high because we are towards the bottom when it comes to public support for higher education.”

Sophomore Nicole Valerio said, “I fear loans in general.”

Senior Leah Forristall said, “I don’t fear accepting a job based on salary. I’d rather work a job I enjoy rather than one I hate just because I’m going to get paid more for the other one.”

Senior Philippe Noel said he is somewhat scared of the debt that he has – approximately $25,000. “Thoughts of my future cross my mind. Being in debt stops me from things like buying a house and getting a car.”

Sophomore Josh Rumple is currently $10,000 in student debt. “I went to a state school because I knew it would be cheaper and I got a pretty great scholarship,” he said.

Rumple plans to attend medical school after graduating from FSU and said he isn’t necessarily concerned about his student debt.

Senior Rachael Thomas also has $10,000 in student debt. “I owe it all back, plus interest. I haven’t paid any of it back yet, none of it,” she said.

Alum Christopher Wisdom said, “I’m not sure how many students really pay attention to the loans they take. I know people who don’t really understand what their debt is going to be and how that will affect their future. … People need to understand what they’re getting themselves into.”