No college degree but lots of debt is ‘worst outcome’

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Capital News Service

LANSING – Overdue payments can cause college students to pause classes or drop out altogether. 

According to the Education Data Initiative, 38% of college dropouts nationally said they left due to financial pressure in 2022. 

“The worst outcome is when a student comes and starts college and leaves with debt, but no degree,” said Bob Murphy, the chief policy officer for the Michigan Association of State Universities.

This pressure can come from small but mounting unpaid costs incurred, like orientation and graduation fees. 

Allison Manor, a senior from DeWitt who is studying psychology at Michigan State University, is paying for college herself.

Costs are a “constant worry,” Manor said,

“At such a young age, navigating thousands of dollars in debt or bills each semester becomes a lot more difficult than the classes you take,” she said. “The anxiety makes it really impossible to fully focus on what students come here to do, which is learn.”

According to the Education Data Initiative, 14.7% of those in Michigan with student debt owe less than $5,000.

According to the Institute for College Access & Success, in 2018-19, 59% of Michigan college graduates had student loan debt, making Michigan the 17th highest nationally. 

To help prevent stopouts and dropouts, Oakland University makes the total cost of education more transparent and has teamed up with other colleges to help students who stopped taking classes for financial reasons, resume their education.

“Oakland is proud of having no fees at all,” Murphy said. 

Colleges and universities may bar students with unpaid fees from enrolling for the next semester or year. 

In 2006, Oakland eliminated mandatory fees, like application fees, and in 2008 eliminated all other remaining fees. Tuition is now the only bill Oakland students get. 

“We have many families that comment to us that they are shocked when they find out the fees at the other universities in Michigan,” said Dawn Aubry, Oakland’s vice president for enrollment management. 

Since the fee elimination in 2008, Oakland’s graduation rate has increased from 46% to 54%, according to the Department of Education. 

“I think the no-fee policy, coupled with the strong academic programs and the strong student services, contribute to the success of Oakland University,” Aubry said. 

Oakland also has the Golden Grizzlies Graduate program to help students who stopped taking classes for financial reasons.

If a student stopped taking classes and has an outstanding debt of less than $1,500, Oakland will work with that student to find a workable payment plan or provide a microgrant to help the student pay off that debt. 

Oakland, along with the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Wayne State University and Henry Ford Community College, works with an initiative called Detroit Drives Degrees. Through the program, students with an outstanding balance at any of those four schools can resume their education at another, and that school will work with them to pay off the debt. 

“There’s a lot of us that are trying to welcome back students who dropped out due to financial reasons,”Aubry said.

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