By Steffanie Atkins
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Nearly 75 percent of Virginia Commonwealth University students are unsure of their student loan debt payments upon graduation, according to a survey by Virginia21, an advocacy group for college students.
Considering that on average, students borrow $18,000 a year to attend a four-year university, the monthly payments could be staggering.
Tom Kramer, executive director of Virginia21, said he fears students won’t be ready to handle these debts.
“It’s really hard for young people to make good decisions about their education program and their future career tract if they don’t know what their financial expectations are going to be when they graduate,” Kramer said.
The survey found that more than 85 percent of students at VCU will have some sort of student debt upon completion of their degree program. More than 10 percent said they will owe at least $50,000. Statewide, the survey showed that 59 percent of college students in public universities will go into debt to go to school.
“College debt is not a problem. College debt does let people go to college that otherwise wouldn’t be able to,” Kramer said. “But it’s only a smart decision if you can pay for it.”
Kramer said 60 percent of students statewide do not know what their loan payments will be after they graduate.
To pay off their college loans, students need good jobs after graduation – and that’s another concern for Virginia21.
According to the survey, 40 percent of students statewide are not clear about what services are offered by their colleges’ career centers. Almost half of VCU students are unsure of what the VCU Career Center has to offer them.
According to the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, Virginia’s unemployment rate is about 5 percent – but it’s higher for young adults.
“Young people are unemployed and underemployed double the rate of the normal population that’s come before them,” Kramer said.
Kramer said college career centers must address such issues. The best centers offer a range of services, from critiquing students’ resumes and job-interviewing skills to holding career fairs and maintaining a database of internship and job opportunities.
The centers must do a better job of publicizing what they provide, Kramer said.
“Career centers are excellent resources for students, but if 40 percent don’t even know the resource is offered, how can they even go use them?” he said.
Other Findings from Virginia21’s Survey
• About 8,000 college students statewide, including 333 students at Virginia Commonwealth University, took the survey. Among the findings:
• 43 percent of students who were aware of the VCU Career Center have utilized the programs available.
• 65 percent of VCU students receive financial help from family members.
• 70 percent of students expect to graduate in four years.
• The No. 1 reason for not graduating in four years is that students cannot get into required classes. Another big reason is that students work and don’t have time to take a full course load.
• 63 percent of students have received need-based financial aid grants from the government or the college.
On the Web
The website for Virginia Commonwealth University’s Career Center is www.students.vcu.edu/careers/