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Buffs ‘n’ Bucks

Buffaloes and Loans: A CU Story on Student Finances

By Anne Bair

With a looming student loan debt of more than $30,000, Gabriel Rodriguez, a student at the University of Colorado Boulder, will be graduating in 2019 and begin paying off the money he owes.

Rodriguez, a mechanical engineering major, realizes his debt level will be high, but, he said, “It is comforting to know that entry-level salaries for engineering positions start off pretty high.” Still, he added, “It is definitely stressful.”

Many other students at CU Boulder take on the responsibility of student loans, like Rodriguez. Louis Melucci, associate director of client services for the Office of Financial Aid at CU Boulder, stated that students borrow $155 million a year in loans at CU Boulder.  And CU students graduate with at least $4,000 more debt than the national average.

Photo courtesy of Gabe Rodriguez

Student loans and eventual debt are an unfortunate reality for many students because they need assistance paying for their education. Rodriguez and his parents decided to take out loans, he explained, because “I am the third child of my family and also the third one to go to college.”  His older brother and he were both in college for the past two years, and “my parents especially weren’t able to afford tuition for the both of us.”

In an interview with the Boulder Daily Camera, Ofelia Morales, director of CU’s Office of Financial Aid, said that student debt has an important, yet subtle, presence in a student’s life: “I think students are much more focused on the here and now of getting good grades as opposed to the debt they’re accumulating.”

According to a study by CU’s Office of Data Analytics, students living in-state graduate with an average of $20,600 in debt — and $21,800 for out-of-state students.  That compares with the nationwide average of $16,033, according to the website LendEDU.  Therefore, CU Boulder undergraduates are entering the workforce with more student loan debt to pay off than students from other universities.

Melucci said that high rents in Boulder are another factor in CU students’ higher rates of debt. “I think the entire cost of attendance is not just tuition and fees but all of the other costs that go along with obtaining your education, like your rent.”

For many students, like Rodriguez, student loans are a topic that not many students know about. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, two-thirds of private loan borrowers, including those who took out both private and federal loans, said that they did not understand the major differences between private and federal options.  Fortunately for Boulder students, CU is doing everything it can to educate students on loans.

“We educate you on the attributes of the loan before we will disburse the loan for you,” Melucci said. “We will walk you through interest rates, repayment benefits, and the grace period. We want you to know what you’re getting into before one dollar of loan money goes out the door.”

Once students are completely aware of all financial possibilities at CU, they will have an easier time paying for college. For example, Kate Vann, a 2016 graduate  in applied mathematics, took advantage of all of her opportunities. Vann explained, “I earned eight scholarships totaling $60k from various donors… The remainder of my college expenses was divided between myself, my family, and student loans. I worked (part-time) every semester to help pay for my tuition. Some semesters were fully funded!”

According to the website Student Loan Debt Hero, this year 44.2 million Americans have student loan debt, owing a total of $1.44 trillion. U.S News & World Report stated that this accumulated debt on average takes an undergraduate student 21 years to pay off.  But at CU, there has been a downhill trend of loan debt per graduate. As reported by a 2017 study by the Office of Data Analytics, the class of 2016 graduated with less loan debt than the previous graduating class. With the knowledge of how student loans work and utilizing all financial opportunities, student loan debt can continue to decrease at CU Boulder.

Once a student graduates, there are ways to save money while repaying the debt.  Rodriguez, for example, says he will replicate what his older brother did.

“I plan to live with my parents until I become financially stable and pay off the majority of my student loans.”



Just the Facts

What is financial aid?

Financial aid makes up the difference between what college costs and what a family can afford to pay. (CollegeBoard)

How do you apply for it?

Students seeking financial aid are required to apply every year using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). (CU Boulder Office of Financial Aid)

What qualifies someone for financial aid?

Maintaining a successful academic career is important, although qualifying for financial aid depends fully on the family’s income and circumstances. It is also important that if the student is receiving financial help from anywhere else, this could potentially affect their ability to receive financial aid. (CU Boulder Office of Financial Aid)

What is a Pell grant?

A Pell grant is a federal need-based grant of $5,328 or lower for college students that anyone can apply for.

There are many grants and scholarships that college students can apply for to receive money toward their education.

It is important to note that in addition to getting large sums of money put toward tuition, there are many small opportunities for students to save money in college. (CU Boulder Office of Financial Aid)