It has been widely reported that today’s college students are racking up more student loans than ever before, leaving many graduates with a heavy burden of debt when they begin their careers.
This fact is not lost on the staff in OCCC’s financial aid office, who are looking for ways to reduce the amount of financial aid that comes in the form of loans.
Linette McMurtrey, assistant director for Student Financial Support Services, said OCCC is working hard to monitor student loans and to discourage unnecessary borrowing.
The first step students can take to decrease the amount of loans they take out is to file early for financial aid through FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. McMurtrey said students who file early can be considered for additional state- and campus-based aid, as well as apply for jobs and scholarships on campus to help reduce college costs.
OCCC student Chris Burns said alternative financial aid options are keeping him in college.
“Because of the comparisons of loan amounts to my college tuition, I considered joining the Naval Reserves,” Burns said.
“But since I have recently found out about other options through financial aid, I know I can make it through the next two years of college.”
For some students, figuring out the amount of their current debt — or whom to talk to — is necessary.
“At first I had no idea how much I owed,” said OCCC student Miles Jackson. He knew that he had accepted numerous loans since starting college in the fall of 2010.
“After visiting the financial aid office, I was able to speak to someone and get a better understanding on how student loans work,” he said.
To help decrease the amount of loans that he accepted, he applied for a Tuition Waiver scholarship, which is available for fall, spring, and summer semesters through the Financial Aid office.
McMurtrey said sometimes her staff has to intervene. “If a student has [gained] excessive debt, the Financial Aid office may not award a loan in a student’s financial aid package, may not approve any request for a Federal Direct Stafford Loan, or may offer a reduced amount of Federal Direct Stafford Student Loan when awarding financial assistance,” said McMurtrey in an e-mail.
She said they consider several factors when making a decision on awarding a Federal Direct Student Loan. These factors include the length of time that a student has left before obtaining a degree, and the scholarships and grants the student is eligible for.
“We encourage students to visit the [OCCC] Financial Aid Office webpage for information about college costs, types of financial aid available, and financial aid application requirements,” McMurtrey said. “We have an informative financial literacy PowerPoint presentation on our website that offers information on managing student loan debt and budgeting as well.”
According to FinAid.org, more than $100 billion in federal education loans and $10 billion in private student loans are originated each year. The total student loan debt exceeded the credit card debt in the U.S. in 2010.