The average undergraduate debt load after graduation at Slippery Rock University is $28,810, the second highest of PASSHE schools, according to a recent study.
The study, which was released by the Project on Student Debt at The Institute for College Access and Success in Oakland, Calif., surveyed voluntary responses from 1,057 public and private nonprofit schools across the nation.
According the study, Pennsylvania was the second highest debt-bearing state in the nation, preceded by only New Hampshire.
The PASSHE School with the highest debt after graduation was Indiana University of Pennsylvania, with $32,410 and the lowest was Clarion University with $3,815 in debt after graduation.
Patty Hladio, Director of Financial Aid, said that the results of the study are not completely reliable.
“When you’re looking at all these figures that are self-reported by schools, you have to be aware that it is voluntary reporting and is probably only as good as the time and effort the school puts into it,” Hladio said. “I would think the numbers wouldn’t be intentionally skewed, but sometimes a school’s software system limits their ability to gather information to the exact specifications of what the common data set would be interested in.”
With tuition rates similar across the board at PASSHE schools, the gap between reported undergraduate debt loads were over $28,000 apart.
“That has to be inaccurate, period,” Hladio said. “There is no way that a school so similar to the other PASSHE schools could have debt under $4,000. The school probably had an error in the software they were using or misinterpreted the language on what was to be reported.”
Hladio suggested that economics across the state could play into the difference in the numbers.
“One of the things that come into play are the economics of the area…the Eastern schools have a greater number of individuals coming from out of state, and may have a population with more resources than the demographics of the schools on the western side of the state,” Hladio said.
The Financial Aid Office at Slippery Rock offers many outlets for students to learn more about debt, how to manage it, and how to avoid it altogether.
“We are very fortunate with the implementation of Banner, [students] now have a very concrete way of choosing the amount they want to borrow for the year,” Hladio said. “We have to tell them the maximum they can borrow, but they can choose to borrow less. Instead of waiting for the student to tell us how much money they want, we’re forcing them to make a decision. A state-of-the-art software system for financial such as Banner allows us to concretely know what decisions the students are making.”
According to Hladio, the office tries to reach every student at an early age through Freshman Orientation sessions and in FYRST Seminar classes.
“We also try to help students manage debt by going into FYRST Seminar classes,” she said. “We do a presentation on budgeting, student loans, credit cards, identity theft, and so with that we are hoping that we can explain to students the importance of borrowing less and being able to have more money in your pocket when you’re in your twenties.”
Hladio said that another option students should consider more seriously is economical housing options.
“I see students who make very financially conscious housing decisions because they’re only in school a very short period of time, so they can minimize any financial pitfalls,” she said. “But many students choose housing styles that requires them to borrow more.”
The Financial Aid Office is offering a new financial video counseling service this year as well.
“It’s called Financial Aid TV, and students can access it from Slippery Rock Financial Aid website,” Hladio said. “Students can find hundreds of 30 second, 60 second, 90 second videos. We have a playlist that deals with financial literacy, and there is a playlist that deals with student loans.”
Hladio’s advice for the best way to manage student debt is returning unnecessary monies.
“I often times will tell students that every semester once billable charges are paid, if you have excess financial aid and find you’re using you’re using your refund to pay for things that pertain to your degree then it is a wise use of money,” Hladio said. “But if you find that you are using that money for fun, for unnecessary items, that is the point that students should return the money through the Office of Student Accounts. You don’t want to be paying for takeout pizza when you’re 25.”