Central Michigan University had the third-highest average debt of graduates in 2011 compared to other universities in the Mid-American Conference, according to website projectonstudentdebt.org.
CMU graduates in 2011 had an average debt of $29,388, while 73 percent of all graduates had some type of debt. The two MAC universities with higher average graduate debt in 2011 were Bowling Green State University with $33,083 and Kent State University with $29,842.
David Burdette, vice president of finance and administrative services, said in an email loans have been necessary to help many students invest in their futures. However, students have to begin paying back their loans after graduation.
Universities don’t see a lot of improvement coming for student debt because of the economic situation in the U.S. and the lack of state and federal investment in helping offset student costs, he said.
“Consider that a decade ago, state funding amounted to 34 percent of CMU’s budget. Today, it’s less than 16 percent,” Burdette said. “There’s a role for governments to play if we want to make university degrees affordably available to more people.”
In 2011, Bowling Green State University students had the highest average amount of debt in the MAC at $33,083, while students at the University at Buffalo had the lowest average amount at $17,760.
ProjectOnStudentDebt.org also reported that two-thirds of college seniors who graduated in 2011 had student loan debt, with an average of $26,600 per borrower.
Burdette said college affordability is a hot topic nationwide and a common theme for CMU’s Board of Trustees, President George Ross and his cabinet.
CMU has taken action to keep education affordable, including adding more than $800,000 in work-study funding in 2011-12, bringing the total work-study funds to $1.1 million; adding an additional $1.1 million in financial aid in 2012-13; adopting the lowest overall cumulative tuition rate increase of any public university in Michigan for the past three years; and increasing the total institutional scholarships and financial aid budget by $14 million in the same three-year period.
One way students can minimize costs is to graduate in four years, Burdette said.
He said CMU has taken an active role to support students on the four-year path by strengthening the academic advising program and launching phase one of a digital planning tool that will help students track their academic progress and graduate on time.
“By graduating in four years, students start their careers sooner and pay less in living expenses, supplies, transportation and personal costs related to college,” Burdette said. “This in turn reduces their college debt — by thousands of dollars a year.”
Commerce Township senior Megan Yaldo said debt is a concern for many students preparing to graduate. She said student debt can prevent people from being able to afford to travel or move to a new city after graduation.
“It stops you from doing a lot of things you want to do,” she said.
Yaldo, who is graduating in August and going into health care administration, said student debt has influenced her decision to wait to apply to graduate schools. She said financial issues can be a big struggle for graduate students because paid internships are hard to find.
“I don’t want to add more debt,” she said.
Shelby Township senior Chris Burch said his parents have always advised him to not let money be something that’s always on his mind, but student debt is something he has been thinking more about as his graduation date gets closer.
“I’m not worried about it yet, but it’s more on my mind now,” he said.
Burch, who is graduating in May and pursuing a career in acting, said he is auditioning for graduate schools now. He said debt is something a lot of college students have to go through, and it forces some graduates to make compromises because they have to put aside money in order to pay off their loans. He does not want to let the cost of education stop him, however.
“Don’t let it govern your future,” Burch said.