Student Loan Debt in New Jersey Increases Over the Past Five Years

A recent study found that Monmouth University students are borrowing more money to fund their education than the average American college student. The study completed by the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), an independent nonprofit research group that concentrates its studies on higher education, also found that among NJ colleges, the University is ranked average in borrowing among private universities and lower than some public universities.

The study determined that the amount of debt the average college student accumulates varies greatly across the country. Students in the East and Midwest areas of the Nation tend to borrow more than students in other regions of the country, the study found.

The average amount of debt incurred by University students who graduated in the 2013 school year was $30,798, according to Claire Alasio, Director of Financial Aid. According to the ICAS report searchable database of colleges, the average college graduate owes about $27,000 in loans. University graduates borrow about 14 percent more than the national average.

The TICAS report noted that the amount of student loan debt has steadily increased in the last five years. Although, Alasio explained that in direct effect of the increase, tuition financing among University students hasn’t experienced considerable growth in that time frame.

“In 2008, the average loan debt was $27,224 and in 2013 it was $30,798. This is a $3,500 increase in average borrowing. However, when you consider that in that same time period tuition went up by $6,600 and room/board went up by $1,900, you can see that student borrowing really hasn’t gone up significantly,” Alasio said.

The $30,798 amount that Alasio stated places University students at the median of borrowers among the eight other private colleges in NJ that the TICAS report examined. In the 2012 school year, graduates of Centenary College averaged $40,588 in debt, followed by Felician College ($38,595), Georgian Court University ($36,114), and Rider University ($35,449), all ranking above the University. Drew University ($24,470), Caldwell College ($21,209), Bloomfield College (20,467) and Princeton University ($5,096) ranked below the University in average debt of their graduates. Data for Farleigh Dickinson University, Saint Peter’s College and Seton Hall University were not provided.

Several public colleges in NJ, including Rutgers, have a lower price tag for tuition, and thus a lower amount of graduate debt than the University. Yet, some graduates of public colleges take on roughly the same amount of debt, if not more, than University graduates, an analysis of the TICAS findings show. Rowan University students in 2012 graduated with an average debt of $35,057. New Jersey Institute of Technology ($34,867), Richard Stockton College of New Jersey ($34,283), The College of New Jersey ($33,889), and Kean ($30,335) are also in the ballpark of average undergraduate debt of University students.

“I would have expected our school to be more expensive than that because of the tuition,” Zack Lezmi, junior communication major said. “I had to take out loans, but I guess that’s every college student’s concern. Although I do have to say that Monmouth has been pretty good with scholarships and grants and letting me know what is out there.”

Several factors go into the average amount of student debt, including financial aid offered by the institutions and the affluence of the families of the student body, which can determine how much aid a student is eligible for and assist them in limiting out of pocket expenses.

According to Alasio, the University has made offering financial aid a priority for the coming school year. “This year Monmouth offered $46.4 million dollars in grants and scholarships, in addition to another approximately $1 million in scholarships made available through the generosity of donors. Recognizing the need for additional funding, we have increased scholarship dollars by 11 percent or $5.1 million for 2014-15; normally that increase is about 4-5 percent,” she said.

The amount of financial aid distributed by institutions of higher education should become as imperative of a consideration as the tuition rate of the other college itself when students decide where to attend school, according to Dr. Robert Scott III, associate professor of economics.

“There’s a difference between price and cost. The sticker price might be $45,000 or $50,000 a year, but in reality very few students pay that,” Scott said. “In some ways the most recent financial crisis has forced people to think more along the lines of college being a financial investment and their return on it. But I don’t think people in general give it enough thought in that regard. Speaking generally, part of that is the fault of the colleges for not educating its students on what they offer and guiding them through the process, and part of it is on the personal financial education of the student.”

Scott said he rarely advises students who have a direct issue with the amount of money they spend on college, but offers some advice to students who will be graduating into a competitive job market with a large amount of debt.

“A lot of people have bachelor’s degrees with limited experience. Two ways to separate yourself from them are to get at least two good internships and to also put a lot of energy into just trying to get a job. Put yourself out there and send out as many resumes as you can. Our career services and alumni association are great resources for graduates to make connections,” Scott said.

Alasio also noted that since the economic downturn there has only been a 2 percent rise in University graduates with loans, up from 73 percent in 2008 to 75 percent in 2013. “Given that this was when the economy was tanking, I don’t view this as a significant change in the number of students who have had to borrow,” Alasio said.

According to the TICAS report’s findings, only Drew (66 percent) and Princeton (24 percent) had a lower percentage of students who graduate with debt, underscoring the University’s efforts to provide ample financial aid for its students. Nearly 100 percent of students at Centenary, by comparison, took out loans to pay for their education in the 2011 school year.

One recent graduate from the University indicated that while she is apprehensive about the prospect of paying back her loans, she also views her time at Monmouth as more valuable than just the financial cost.

“I was required to take out more student loans than I would like to admit out loud. Luckily, I have the next six months to figure out how I’m going to pay them all back and although I’m slightly worried, as any emerging professional should be, I am hopeful that I will land a job that will help me pay them back quickly,” Brittany Hardaker, who graduated in January said.

Hardaker continued, “I knew that I wanted to attend Monmouth the moment I set foot on campus. Despite the cost, I knew it was the place for me and that I would do anything I could to attend even if it meant taking out multi-thousand dollar loans, even though I now cringe at my total debt. I would pay back every penny to be able to repeat the last four years of my time spent at Monmouth. I would, and do, recommend that every high school graduate seeking college enrollment to at least check out the campus and everything that the University has to offer.”

Ken Ferreira, a junior criminal justice major, transferred into the University from Raritan Valley Community College, and echoes Hardaker’s sentiment about his college experience going beyond the price tag. “Transferring in saved me some money. Fortunately, I haven’t had to take out any loans. Although I’d recommend going to a community college to save yourself some money, I also fell in love with this campus. It’s ascetically pleasing and I like the small class sizes here. I can see why people love this school.”

IMAGE COMPILED by Christopher Netta


Last week, in a story headlined “Student Loan Debt in New Jersey Increases Over the Past Five Years” The Outlook reported that students who graduated in 2013 would have $30,798 in student loan debt and 75 percent of students would have debt. The correct information is $34,810 for the 2012 school year, with 72 percent of students graduating with debt. In another story headlined “A Match Made in Heaven,” The Outlook captioned a photo recognizing Tau Delta Phi. Tau Delta Phi is not officially recognized by the University. If, for any reason, these two inaccuracies have caused misunderstandings or problems, The Outlook regrets that.