UM students counting their pennies

UM graduates may be leaving school with more than just their diplomas, according to U.S. News & World Report. In its 2006 edition listing America’s best colleges, the magazine listed the University of Miami as the leading national college in student indebtedness. According to the data, UM graduates of the class of 2004 owed the most money after leaving school, taking home an average of $31,723 in student loan debt along with their bachelor’s degrees.

Federal student loans first hit the college scene in the 1960s as a way to provide students from lower-income families with access to a college education. These need-based loans allowed a student to borrow the money needed to cover the cost of tuition and then repay the amount of the loan in the form of monthly payments after graduation. Over the years, as college tuition rates have increased, eligibility for student loans made its way up the economic ladder in order to give financial aid to students from middle class families who did not qualify for the need-based loans. Today, loans make up the bulk of financial aid packages for college students.

“I think the problem is that the cost of going to college is just too high,” Meagan Fitzgerald, freshman, said.

Indeed, undergraduate tuition rates have experienced a steady increase over the years. During their freshman year at UM, full-time students of the class of 2006 were paying $12,189 per semester. Now in their senior year at UM, they are paying $14,510 per semester.

Provost Thomas LeBlanc explained that college costs rise everywhere for a number of reasons including investments in first generation technology, salary increases and inflation in general.

“You have to look at [tuition rate increases] compared to other places like us and ask if tuition is in line with other places like us and I think the answer is yes,” LeBlanc said.

Paul Orehovec, vice president of enrollment management for the University, said that students should examine U.S. News & World Report’s other rankings on UM before coming to any negative conclusions.

“[The magazine] also has another publication out that ranks us as one of the best values in the country,” Orehovec said.

Currently, UM is ranked 44th in the magazine’s “Great Schools, Great Prices” list, which ranks schools based on their academic quality versus the schools’ net cost of attendance for students who receive need-based financial aid. The data showed that students receiving need-based aid were paying an average of $22,757 in tuition and fees, representing a 43 percent discount from the total cost of school.

When approached with UM’s top ranking in student debt, most students were surprised at the news.

“I have friends [in college] in D.C. who pay upwards of $45,000 for school and UM seems pretty generous with their scholarships, so [the ranking] surprises me,” Jessica Gentile, sophomore, said.

Orehovec states that scholarships and grants are not the issue, however.

“I think it’s well known that UM has a significant financial aid program,” Orehovec said, “U.S. News also took private loans into consideration when making their calculations, not just financial aid loans.”

Orehoveec also mentions that in spite of the high amount of debt UM graduates are facing, they have managed to maintain a low default rate. Currently, the loan default rate for UM graduates is listed as less than one percent, making it one of the lowest default rates in the country. So while it is true that UM students take out a large sum in student loans, Orehovec notes that the important thing to remember is that they are repaying and they are doing so effectively.

Marina Nazir can be reached at