Student debt increasing at BU

Butler University undergraduates garner $5,000 more debt in student loans on average than they did five years ago.

The average student loan debt incurred by a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in May 2011 was $34,300, said Melissa Smurdon, director of financial aid. She said the average student should expect to pay $300 to $400 per month to repay the loans received for a Butler education.

The average student would need to earn an annual salary of approximately $46,000 in order to “not live in hardship,” Smurdon said.

The only graduates that earn such an annual starting salary are from the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, according to the Internship and Career Services’  postgraduate activity report for the class of 2011. This report tracks students six months after graduation.

COPHS graduates make $82,851 on average starting out, but Gary Beaulieu, director of ICS, said that is because they earn a doctorate degree that Butler considers an undergraduate degree. Therefore, the starting wages are added into the average starting salary for all of Butler’s graduates.

“College of Pharmacy students get a doctorate degree and command a higher salary–—typically a much higher salary—than most students,” he said. “That changes the average a little bit.”

Beaulieu said while many of the respondents surveyed in the report are from COPHS, he absolutely does not believe Butler students are living in hardship, and any education is better than none.

Butler students’ mounting debt and the more than $95 million in financial assistance that students currently hold did not stop the 2013 Fiske Guide to Colleges from naming Butler a “Best Buy.”

Ted Fiske, the guide’s author, said he does not factor students’ ability to pay or the amount of debt incurred by students into his analysis because such factors vary on a case-by-case basis.

“Butler provides a quality education and keeps tuition relatively low,” Fiske said.

Butler made the “Best Buy” list for the first time because it was just added to the guide a few years ago, Fiske said, and it remains to be seen if Butler will stay on his list.

Having students who are capable of meeting their financial requirements and who understand the financial obligations associated with a college education may be essential to Butler’s staying power.

The default rate on student loans by Butler students is less than 0.5 percent, said Aimee Scheuermann, director of admission.

She said she is not concerned with the largest-ever freshman class’s ability to repay its debts because of the academic strength of Butler and the freshman class.

“I think we do comprehensive education right,” Scheuermann said. “It’s not just the academic experience and that foundation, but it’s the practical application of what it is you’re learning in the classroom.”

Scheuermann said her office does not speak with prospective students about their financial obligations but instead focuses on the outcome of an investment in a college education.

Smurdon said only two of 100 freshman students she spoke to during freshman orientation week knew the interest rates on their student loans.

Matt Lally, a high school senior from St. Charles, Ill., said the cost of higher education is not a deciding factor in his college search, and he does not really worry about it.

“I don’t really know much about financial aid,” Lally said, “and that’s one of the reasons I’m not really worried about it—because I don’t know.”

Allison Lally, Matt’s mother, said she typically has to search out information about financial aid at universities her other children have attended, but the high schools her kids graduated from really helped provide guidance.

The Office of Financial Aid requires incoming Butler students to complete entrance counseling to help students understand what their repayment will be and encourages students to not borrow more than what is practical, Smurdon said.

Students can visit finaid.org for more information on how to actively combat the cost of higher education.

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