The OCCC student loan default rate is almost twice as high as the average for students nationally, but is typical of two-year college students.
Nationally about 13.4 percent of students default on their student loans. By comparison, 24 percent of OCCC students default on their federal student loans, according to the College Scorecard.
The College Scorecard website www.whitehouse.gov/issues/education/higher-education/college-score-card notes that community college students are more likely to default than university students.
Statistics show that students who attend universities are more likely to succeed in jobs and are able to pay back their loans, while two-year college students are more likely to drop out before completing their degrees or job credentials.
OCCC Student Financial Support Services Dean Harold Case said the student loan debt is in the trillions today, which is more than the total debt of credit card holders.
Case said default rates are rising for all colleges and universities.
Since this is becoming such a big issue, Case said, the college has started to act in order to help OCCC students before they default.
A big reason why students default is because a lot of first-year students withdraw due to different reasons, Case said.
OCCC plans on sending letters to “high risk” students to help remind them about their loans before they default.
Even though former students may have good reasons for not making debt payments, the federal government will hold them in default anyway. Case said confronting the problem and talking to Financial Aid about the situation might give students some leeway during a crisis. The worst thing is to do nothing, he said.
The story of one former OCCC student illustrates the problem. (She asked that her real name not be used.)
Lucy was a full-time student at OCCC for four semesters before transferring in 2010 to the University of Oklahoma to complete her bachelor’s degree.
She said now, she is not able to pay back the $2,500 she owes in student loans because of a family crisis.
Lucy said she was one year shy of getting her bachelor’s degree in political science and psychology when her mother was diagnosed with cancer.
Being the only child old enough to help her mother, she felt bound to take on the responsibility.
Her mother’s cancer took over quickly, leaving Lucy the only able adult in the house. As the motherly figure, she had to take care of her sick mother and her younger brother all while keeping a part-time job.
With this burden upon her, she said school and student loans were the last thing on her mind. She thought when her family situation improved, she would return to OU and finish her degree, so she was not worrying about trying to make loan payments.
Although her mother has died, Lucy is still in limbo about whether she wants to return to school.
Lucy said she plans on talking to Financial Aid about her situation and taking charge of the debt she owes.
Case said Lucy has made a big mistake that may make it impossible for her to get federal financial assistance in the future. Once a student defaults, the loans will have a more negative impact on their lives, he said.
In Lucy’s situation, Case said, the best thing for her to do now is to contact the U.S. Department of Education to find out who holds her loan and figure out what steps she might take to get out of default.
Had she contacted Financial Aid before going into default, he said, Lucy might have been able to take advantage of the hardship deferment or forbearance that would have helped her avoid default.
Case said OCCC plans on contracting with a third party in order to help borrowers avoid default. Not even bankruptcy will discharge federal student loan debt, he said, so it won’t ever go away.
For more information, contact Student Financial Support Services at 405-682-7525.