Student debt still on the rise, unmanageable

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As of Feb. 8, 2017, Americans owe roughly $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among close to 44 million borrowers. Here at Capital, the financial aid department is dedicated to helping students decrease this amount by offering different forms of aid such as scholarships and work study, while also maintaining an open-door policy.

“The department is as incredibly hands on as we are allowed to be,” said Director of Financial Aid Susan Kannenwischer. “The problem is that no one seeks out the financial aid department unless something goes wrong.”

Each financial aid package is individual to each student and depends greatly on what they can afford to pay.

“There is no definitive package because it truly depends on the families [of students],” Kannenwischer said.

The department tries to shy away from offering aid based on the estimated family income that is revealed to families after they fill out the FAFSA. This number is arbitrary and not necessarily accurate when it comes to family contribution.

It is a university standard to award subsidized loans first, which have annual limits set by the government that vary state by state. After these are awarded, the financial aid department is able to determine eligibility based on financial need.

Work study is another option for students to help pay for tuition. This award is available to students who work during school, typically averaging $1,000 per student. There is a specific dollar amount set each year, which is typically predictable, though not set in stone for each year.

“Every school has different resources,” Kannenwischer said. “We always offer the most [aid] we can, [though] federal and state dollar amounts cannot be altered by the financial aid department.”

In an effort to make the conversation of financial aid easier on students and parents, the financial aid department has taken steps to begin improving communication.

“This year, prospective students received their financial aid award package three months earlier in the decision-making process [than normal],” JP Spagnolo, vice president for strategic enrollment management, said. “Having this information earlier empowers students to make informed decisions while providing additional time to seek out other opportunities to finance college. “

There are currently 3,220 students enrolled at Capital, each of whom had to make some sort of financial decision when deciding to attend college.

“Financial aid is very important to students who apply to Capital University,” Spagnolo said. “College costs and student debt weigh heavily on student minds as they select which college they will attend. Financial aid enables many students to attend Capital and engage in our vibrant academic community.”

The financial aid department hopes that providing students with information about their financial aid packages frequently and thoroughly will alleviate any potential problems when it comes time for graduation.

The most financial aid pressure typically lies in senior students, according to Kannenwischer, because their awareness increases as they get to the end of their journey.

“We want to partner with students to go through this maze,” said Kannenwischer. “We’re here to lessen the confusion. We don’t ever want a student to walk away out of fear. Capital’s a pretty special place and [students] can get a good education here that will be worth it, but a student has to do what is best for them.”

There are ways to avoid excessive student loan debt, whether that means students getting summer jobs, working during the school year, or applying for scholarships and grants through secondary sources. The financial aid department encourages students to maintain open and active lines of communication with them in order to avoid the stress of paying off an unmanageable debt.

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