College education has become a minimum requirement in today’s workforce, but it doesn’t come with a small price tag.
A study conducted by Bank of America and USA Today last fall surveyed 1,000 millennials across the country and found that, while 80 percent believed they would be as financially stable as their parents, about 53 percent are living paycheck to paycheck and not saving for the future.
“I think students have a tendency to pay attention to academics and social issues and their general physical wellbeing many times and not pay as much attention to the financial skills that they need to have as an adult,” said Billie Jo Hamilton, director of Financial Aid.
Last spring, the Wall Street Journal released statistics naming the class of 2014 the most indebted class, with an average student debt of $33,000 at graduation.
“Students who borrow to attend education tend to have very high confidence that regardless of what they borrow they will not have a problem paying it back,” said Heidi Wisby, assistant director of financial education for the Office of Financial Aid. “They’re, I guess, maybe not looking at the details before the bill comes due.”
Wisby believes that much of the financial challenges millennials face are products of a lack of financial literacy.
“We see a lot of students that are not familiar with how to do a budget, how to understand what they have coming in and what they have going out, the planning that’s needed to make sure everything’s covered and save a little bit and plan for emergencies,” she said. “That’s the kind of assistance that we try to provide and we do that one on one and also in classrooms so students can feel like they’re in control. I think that’s what people are lacking these days, they don’t really feel like they’re in control of their finances.”
Additionally, a large factor in student debt is a reliance on student loans as a primary means of financing education.
“Very few families are actually putting money aside to pay for education so people are turning to financial aid,” Wisby said. “We also know that the free money that’s out there, the grants and scholarships, have not kept pace with the increases in tuition costs. So you have this big gap between what’s covered by families and free money and what’s borrowed.”
According to the Bank of America study, 33 percent of students have a student loan, of which 40 percent of student loan borrowers receive financial assistance from family members in order to make the monthly payments.
Though student debt is an increasing issue nationally, the USF Office of Financial Aid reports that in recent years only 50 to 54 percent of students have borrowed loans, and the average student debt is about $23,000 after graduation.
At USF students can participate in Bull2Bull, a peer-to-peer financial aid education program that aims to assist students with a personal understanding of finances and broadening financial awareness. Students can also participate in group financial counseling and education seminars as well as loan counseling.
“There are so many repayment options for students when they get out, students can go through exit counseling … there are a lot of repayment opportunities for students that weren’t available 10 or 15 years ago,” Hamilton said. “I think students are finding that there’s something that will fit their particular financial circumstances that makes it easier to pay off their student loans.
In addition to fewer USF graduates taking out loans, of those who do, the number of students who default on their loans has decreased significantly from 7.4 percent last year to an estimated 5.4 percent this year. In comparison, the national average default rate for public four-year universities is 8.9 percent.
The Wall Street Journal also reported that from 2005 to 2012, average student loan debt increased by 35 percent while the median salary has decreased by 2.2 percent.
“We’ve seen this all along -— it’s probably a little more present in the millennial culture –— but I think that’s a function of a lot of things, not just the age group,” Wisby said. “The way the economies developed and cultural values have changed a lot too, so I don’t think this is new to millennials, it’s just very pronounced because things have really gotten tough.”