Kyle Martin and Julia Falcon
Graduating high school and going to college is becoming an American tradition. It has become a new normal.
But normalcy is changing for students and their families. Going to college is different than it used to be. Students today often are either suffering or surviving through added financial pressures that didn’t exist in such quantities decades ago.
A Bloomberg business report released Feb. 17 said student loan debt, which reached a record national high of $1.31 trillion, is soaring and has been for a consecutive 18 years.
“Outstanding loans taken out for higher education have doubled since 2009, data shows,” the report said. “No other form of household debt has increased by as much since then.”
Millennials, I need you to answer this:
Will you be able to buy a house in your lifetime?
— Kyle Martin (@Kyle_Martin35) February 19, 2017
On top of students digging themselves into more and more debt in order to go to school are graduates who cannot pay back their loans after they’ve graduated. The report said “close to one-quarter of student debtors whose bills have come due are either in default or at least 90 days late on their required monthly payments, New York Fed data suggests.”
An April 2016 report from the Dallas Morning News asserts that UNT collected an increase of 851 percent in tuition costs from students from 1993-2015. A majority of 75 percent of the student population now takes out some form of aid at UNT, according to UNT financial aid. This means more students than ever are taking out loans because they cannot pay for college themselves.
“I know it’s an issue for sure,” Student Government Association President Grant Hale said. “We all experience it.”
Answer this, please:
Should Millennials be afraid for their financial futures?
— Kyle Martin (@Kyle_Martin35) February 19, 2017
Hale, history and political science senior, said there is not much within SGA’s power that can be done, apart from notifying university administrations of student concerns.
“The most SGA can do is bring it up to President Smatresk and the administration, which I would be happy to do the next time I meet up with them,” Hale said. “I know UNT has worked to maintain comparatively cheaper costs of attendance compared to other large public institutions.”
However, numbers show that UNT has competitively kept up with rising cost of attendance every year, ranking sixth in highest rises in tuition collections since 1993, right behind the most attended schools in Texas like Texas A&M in College Station and University of Texas at Austin, according to the 2016 report from the Dallas Morning News.
UNT alumnus Blake Bozarth, who was a member of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and other groups, averaged close to a 40 hour work week at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop in Denton during his time as an undergraduate. At times when money was tight, he said he’d mow lawns and work “odd jobs” to get by.
Bozarth decided to come to UNT because of its budding aviation logistics program, in which he got a degree. He said he hopes to pay off his loans within the next 10 years.
He is part of the vast majority of the UNT student body, past and present, who had to take out financial aid and loans to get through school.
“I took 12 hours from the get-go so I could work,” Bozarth said.
At one point, he had 15 hour semesters and his grades were lacking, with a GPA of around 2.1. He said he went from being a C student to an A/B student after dropping his class load to a more manageable 12-hours or less per semester. He did this to work full-time to pay his bills and have enough time to keep his grades up.
“I didn’t want to go to school solely off of loans,” Bozarth said. “I’m on pace to pay off my loans in 10 years, but my personal goal is five years. I took out $65,000. I feel like that’s terrible.”
Though not all of the university’s revenue comes from students, they are the fuel to the fire. Or rather, their dollars are. Without students, there are no universities — and no constant flow of money, year after year.
As seen in the university’s 2016-17 Consolidated Operating Budget, the tuition paid by students goes towards multiple expenditures in the university.
Along with rising education costs, however, are rising enrollment rates across Texas. According to enrollment statistics from Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Texas had 81,286 students enrolled in higher-education institutions in the summer and fall of 2015, compared to only 52,666 students during the same terms in 2000. The year 2000 is the farthest back the data goes.
Maegan Shafer, an emergency administration, and planning graduate student, works in the Money Management office at UNT. Shafer said that the main concerns she hears are from freshmen who don’t know how to budget their money. Other fears include not knowing how to pay for the next semester and the risk of dropping out.
The Money Management office is available for students to get help with financial planning and seek advice on how to budget.
“Pretty much we help students achieve their goals,” Shafer said. “If someone says, ‘oh I want a car,’ we would say, ‘well, here is how you can do it.’ There’s not a lot we can do when money is due the day you come in and see us.”
Craig Howard, assistant director of the Office of Admissions, said when admissions recruiter teams go visit high schools, they target their specific demographics relative to the areas they are in.
If a recruiter goes to Dallas ISD, or even to a school district in El Paso, the recruiter will talk about the importance of going to college and the benefits of having a degree, speaking to those who might opt out of higher education to immediately join the workforce. For lower socioeconomic status students and families, the argument normally isn’t which college to go to, but if they should even go to college in the first place.
At school districts such as Plano ISD or McKinney ISD, where often students and their families are already planning on going to college or are in higher socioeconomic tiers, the recruiter will talk about why those students should choose UNT over other schools instead.
“UNT has the highest transfer rate in the United States,” Howard said. “If you’re concerned, do a year or two at a community college. UNT is a very transfer-friendly school. It’s a great way to pay less for the UNT experience.”
While increased enrollment is a factor in the increased tuition collections from the university, the job of Howard and the department of admissions is not to deal with money because that goes above him and his department. However, his job is to keep an increasing, steady flow of students enrolling at the university every year.
It just so happens that because of this, the university is able to make more money off of tuition.
Nowhere in the budget does it say that the university plans to lower tuition or make the cost of attendance any cheaper in the near future. What is clear in the budget, however, is new undergraduate students are seeing an increase of 3.9 percent to their tuition costs, as approved by the UNT System Board of Regents.
“There are a lot of people to look at a lot of variables to come up with those numbers,” Howard said. “We are a small piece of a very large pie.”
The next story in this series will be a look into the value of a UNT degree versus the price of one. If you would like to share your story or have any questions or comments regarding the reporting behind this series, please reach out to Julia Falcon (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Kyle Martin (email@example.com).
Featured Image: Blake Bozarth, a Class of 2016 alumnus of the aviation logistics program, sits in the same Fuzzy’s Taco Shop where he worked full time during school. He’s now working in his field of study and looking to pay off around $65,000 in student loans within 10 years. Kyle Martin