Student debt at Emporia State continues to fall, earning national recognition

September 14, 2017

Emporia State is earning notice for its students’ lower-than-average debt load upon graduation. In rankings announced this week by U.S. News and World Report, ESU was the No. 1 university in Kansas for least student debt load and No. 2 for regional Midwest universities.

“We are so excited that we have some of the lowest debt in the nation for our graduates and one of the highest placement rates in the nation,” said ESU President Allison D. Garrett. “Both of those together speak to the caliber of place this is and the kind of experience that our students have.”

According to the most recent data from The Institute for College Access and Success, students graduating with bachelor’s degrees in May 2015 reported a national average student debt of $30,100. In Kansas for the same period, the average was $28,008.

ESU students graduating in May 2017 with their bachelor’s degrees reported an average debt of $20,339. In fact, ESU student debt has been steadily declining since May 2015 when it was $22,364.

Add to those statistics that 98 percent of ESU students who returned a survey after graduating with their bachelor’s degrees in May 2016 reported they were employed in their chosen field or enrolled in graduate school or additional studies such as medical school.

Across campus, efforts are in place to help undergraduate students leave Emporia State with as little debt as possible. These efforts include academic advising to maximize course hours, financial literacy as part of Health Hornet Wellness and loan counseling.

College graduates earn an average of 40 percent more than those with a high school degree. Students graduating from ESU are seeing a positive return on investment.

ESU’s Office of Financial Aid, Scholarships and Veterans Services uses SALT — a free, online resource that helps students finance their higher education, manage any student loans and build personal finance skills — to promote financial literacy. Director Elaine Henrie says SALT is useful even after college.

“It’s about saving. It’s about paying the loans. It’s about scholarship searches. There's information for after graduating and getting a mortgage. There are tips on job interviews,” she said. “It’s a tool that can be used for the entire family.”

Staff in financial aid actually begin working with students even before they enroll at Emporia State. They present in consumer education classes at high schools in Emporia, Lyon County and across the state. They also stress the importance of filling out the FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, what Henrie, calls the “first step.”

Information supplied on the FAFSA lets students qualify for federal aid programs as well as university scholarships.

Graduate student Shayla Cotman also encourages students to do their homework and find additional scholarships. That’s what she did after decided to attend ESU as a student-athlete. Even though she received an athletic scholarship for tuition and fees, she knew there would be other expenses.

“I sat down with both my parents and kind of talked about, ‘OK here's the athletic side of it. How much more do I need to figure out?’” Cotman recalled. For her, scholarships, and working both on- and off-campus during breaks, were key.

“I searched online and just really put in the effort to actually find scholarships because they are out there,” Cotman said. “Some people don't even necessarily apply for them and that almost gives you even a better chance.”

For Cotman, her efforts paid off. She graduated in May 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting with a minor in information systems and no debt to repay. Her degree was paid through scholarships and paychecks.

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