Area experts discuss planning, financing higher education

Total student loan debt: $1.31 trillion

Total U.S. borrowers with student loan debt: 44.2 million

Student loan delinquency or default rate: 11.2%

Total increase in student loan debt in 4Q2016: $31 billion

New delinquent balances (30+ days): $32.6 billion

New delinquent balances – seriously delinquent (90+ days): $31 billion

4Q 2016, New York Federal Reserve

Paying for college continues to be one of the greatest challenges current students and recent graduates face.

Average debt at graduation: $19,495

Percentage of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 26.8% (17th lowest)

Median household income, ages 25-44: $56,786 (21st lowest)

Average debt as share of median household income: 34.3% (7th highest)


Student debt is on the rise, according to the Project on Student Debt at The Institute for College Access & Success.

• New Hampshire $25,740

• Pennsylvania $24,172

• Connecticut $21,805

• Minnesota $21,744

• South Dakota $21,298

• Rhode Island $20,334

• Wisconsin $19,881

• Massachusetts $19,854

• West Virginia $19,520

• Ohio $19,495


“Student debt is still rising, and the typical college graduate now leaves school with over $30,000 in loans,” said TICAS president Lauren Asher.

The most recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York showed that Americans owed $1.3 trillion in student loan debt in 2016.


Some argue that student loan debt is a crisis in this country. Whether it is believed to be a crisis or not, funding higher education is proven to be an obstacle for many students and families.

College is an investment that appreciates in value, said Lake Erie College Vice President for Enrollment Management Terry D. Finefrock.

“We always want to help families make this investment wisely,” she said.

Lake Erie College offers numerous financial resources including one-on-one guidance for incoming and current student and exit counseling for graduates.

Finefrock said the college aims to raise financial literacy.

Finances are discussed during registration and freshman orientation, she said.

Lake Erie College offers academic- and merit-based scholarships to qualifying students. They also have institutional interest-free loans that can be accessed in emergencies.

There are an abundance of financial resources to help students and families make well-informed financial decisions.

Citizens Bank is one financial institution that helps navigate families through the confusing landscape of college financing.

Melissa Bassett, who is the senior vice president of strategy and sales for student lending at Citizens Bank, said private student loans should be the last resort for families.

Although Citizens Bank is a national lender, Bassett said they work with families as early as possible to teach them about savings options.

“Our focus with families and students at an early age is the importance of saving,” she said. “Our customers and prospects come to us looking for information on what should we do. So, we spend a lot of time not only on the phone when they call us but via digital, web, social media posts with suggestions during certain times of the year about what they can begin thinking about before they get to school.”

Customers can go to for more information and financial tips.

Citizens Bank ensures that students have taken advantage of all the low-cost federal options and available scholarships before discussing private loans, she said.

After all avenues have been explored, bankers will explain loan options.

Bassett said Citizens Bank is the only bank in the country that provides a service for families to come into the branch and apply for a loan in-branch.

“A lot of providers out-source their loans,” she said. “It such a stressful situation and decision for a family — and to just to be able to sit down in front of another human being to discuss those worries and anxieties and have the banker be able to alleviate that, has been a huge success.”

In addition to colleges and banks, there is a local resource that helps students explore options for college.

Besides planning for college, the Lake/ Geauga Educational Assistance Foundation strives to help students successfully complete college.

Executive Director David Munson said they will soon provide a mentoring program that will assist students while in college.

According to Complete College America, many students are not graduating on time or at all, which is costing students and families more money.

Students graduating late take more classes at additional costs, postpone getting a career and delay their earning potential, the report also said.

Keeping that problem in mind, LEAF offers programs like the STEM camp to get younger and younger students thinking about their strengths, interests and goals.

Early education is key.

LEAF Scholarship Manager Stephanie Kubec said many people don’t understand their loan amount or realize they have to start paying the loan off until the last minute.

“They don’t start planning soon enough,” she said.

LEAF, which recently moved from Auburn Campus in Concord Township to Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, will offer free informational sessions in the fall to all students about admissions applications, FAFSA preparation, college research, campus tours, scholarships and loans.

“Going to college is a big change in a student’s life,” Muson said. “They should approach it with determination to utilize all resources at their disposal in choosing a college and researching financial aid options.”

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