Westminster students less affected by student debt crisis

With student debt climbing to $1.3 trillion, Westminster administrators have created a way for students to ease their stress when it comes to student loans.

Over the past five years, the cost of college tuition has increased more than 28 percent, and the funding for public colleges has fallen by an inflation-adjusted 0.8 percent, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

This is an issue for many students since workers earnings have remained the same, yet they are receiving less financial aid than before.

Students shared their estimated student debt amount. Answers ranged from a confused, 'I don't know' to debts as large as $102,500 due to graduate school ambitions. Student debt has climbed into the trillions for students across the United States, but at Westminster, administrators are trying to combat that burden. Photos by Catherine Blakemore

Students shared their estimated student debt amount. Answers ranged from a confused, 'I don't know' to debts as large as $102,500 due to graduate school ambitions. Student debt has climbed into the trillions for students across the United States, but at Westminster, administrators are trying to combat that burden. Photos by Catherine Blakemore

However, at Westminster, about 92 percent of incoming first-year students received a renewable grant or scholarship. The school has also given over $60 million in financial aid to students in the 2014–2015 academic year.

“Many of the people might look at the Westminster price tag and think that it is out of reach,” said Michelle Barber-Lyhnakis, director of alumni institutional advancement. “But when you actually put the pen to the paper… maybe you’ll have a little bit of debt, but it’s not outrageous, and it’s a really good investment.”

Some students agreed with Barber and had positive comments about Westminster.

“I love Westminster,” said Savanna Brown, junior nursing major. “When I saw how high tuition was, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to afford it. But with financial aid and scholarship money, they made it easy.”

Although the school does help make college affordable, many students are worried about not being able to attend graduate school. Some have even changed their majors so that they can make more money after graduation.

“My [first] year I came here to be a teacher, until I realized I how much debt I would be in,” said Hanah Holt, senior psychology major.  “I switched to my major to psychology… but if I get my master’s, there’s more student debt.”

Students changing their majors to make more money after graduation has been a growing issue.

Students taking out loans has resulted in fewer people going into lower-paying professions such as social work, teaching and health care, according to Kelley Holland, a writer for CNBC.

Many Utah schools are currently facing this issue.

The Salt Lake City School District has been having trouble finding qualified applicants to teach its special education courses, according to Robin Rector, a preschool special education consultant.

Yet, Westminster has created a program that helps students who choose to go into the school of education get jobs.

Each year, Westminster invites all the heads of the school districts in Utah to listen to both students and professors at Westminster College.

First, the professors talk to the heads of the school districts and explain what their classes taught their students and how they prepared them for their career.

The school districts then interview the students and most receive a job on the spot, according to Barber, director of alumni institutional advancement.

Westminster has also implemented this program for both the accounting and finance majors and are looking to expand into other majors soon.

Westminster has provided statistics on how many students receive jobs after graduating.

It stated that in 2014, 92 percent of its students were either employed or attending graduate school within six months, and 50 percent of the students that graduated earned more than $50,000 or more at their first job.

Although these are strong statistics, there is still the worry that students will not be able to attend graduate school.

With student loan debts climbing in the United States, and 7 million of those people now defaulting on those loans, students are concerned on how it will it damage our economy, according to Josh Mitchell’s article in the Wall Street Journal.

Some students are taking action to reduce the amount of debt by looking at the upcoming election.

“I heard Bernie Sanders wants to make public college free,” said Stephanie Gardiner, junior chemistry major. “So, vote Bernie Sanders!”

Students are even helping Bernie Sanders, a junior United States senator from Vermont running in the upcoming presidential election, with his 2016 campaign.

“I am actually signed up to campaign with Bernie Sanders,” said Alexx Lenzi, first-year economics major. “One of his platform points is to reform the financial situation in schools.”

Many of the upcoming presidential candidates have been discussing the student debt crisis and have proposed several different reform ideas. Like Sanders, Hillary Clinton has also made student debt one of the centerpieces for her campaign.

Forum readers can see more about this in reporter Jacqueline Dobbins’ story about candidate's running points and stances for the 2016 election.