Student Loan Debt Lower than Average at Piedmont College

Piedmont students’ loan debt is lower than both the national and stated average. Student reporter Ashley Banks spoke with David McMillion, the director of financial aid, about her findings.

Listen to her story.

Interview Script Final

 

Q: How many Piedmont students are currently using financial aid to pay for school?

A: Roughly 98 percent of the student body receives some sort of financial aid one way or the other if you’re counting just undergraduates. If you throw in our graduate students, the percentage lowers a little bit, probably around to 88 or 89 percent. When I say financial aid, I mean federal, state or institutional aid that a student would receive.

 

Q: How many students at Piedmont College currently take out loans to help cover the costs of school?

A: I would say probably somewhere between 75 to 85 percent of our student body uses student loans. For our graduating class of 2013, 18 percent of the student body did not use student loans.

 

Q: What was the average student debt of a Piedmont graduate this past year?

A: The average student debt of our student population is between $17,000 and $18,000 for their four years here…We actually are below the national average.

 

Q: Do student loans affect how Piedmont gets paid in any way?

A: Not directly. We have to monitor something called a cohort default rate, which means that when a student takes a loan and they leave or graduate from Piedmont College, the U.S. department of education is going to track them for three years. You get something called a cohort default rate, and if that exceeds a certain percentage, then we’re monitored by the department of education and should it continue to climb, we could have our eligibility for federal funds revoked. We’re not anywhere close to that happening here at Piedmont College; our default rate is between three and four percent and is well below the national average of 6.8 percent.

 

Q: How is it determined which students receive book vouchers?

A: Book voucher is a little bit of a misnomer. What a book voucher actually is if a student has aid that exceeds tuition or their charges, the business office actually issues a line of credit to the bookstore on that excess of funds.

 

Q: Are students aware that book vouchers are loan money when they receive them?

A: They should be aware. It is on the award letter.

 

Q: How many, if any, of those students return any unused loan money each semester?

A: We do get students who do choose to reduce their student loans or reduce their borrowing. It happens every semester. It’s not something that we track regularly, but it is something that occurs.

 

Q: What is Piedmont currently doing to prepare students for their financial responsibilities after graduation?

A: Every student must complete entrance counseling before they take a student loan; that lets them know their rights and responsibilities as a borrower. Once they graduate or leave school, they must complete exit counseling. We vigorously enforce that. We make sure that we call and send emails and make sure that all students do that. Also this year we’re visiting some PC 101 classes that we’ve been invited to. They’re some really good websites out there: studentloans.gov, NSLDS.ed.gov, GAcollege411.

 

Q: Would you say that Piedmont students are more or less prepared to deal with student loan debt after graduation compared to students at other colleges?

A: Based on our cohort default rate, I would have to say that they are better prepared. Our default rate shows that our students are paying back their student loans. I think our average debt also shows that our students are not borrowing so much that they’re never going to be able to dig themselves out of the hole. I feel pretty confident about where our students are.

 

Q: How do you feel the current system of communication is between students and financial aid?

A: I think it works well. I definitely think there are things that we can do better, but I think with our current technology and what we do with our resources, I think we do a very good job.

 

Q: Could anything be done to enhance it?

A: I think we are doing some of those things to enhance it. The college itself is moving to a new student system in the next couple of years. I think that’s going to allow for a little bit better transparency. Right now we have paper files, and if a student wants to know what’s going on, they have to come into the office or request an award letter or request an invoice from the business office. I think when we do move to the online system it’s going to have better transparency. Students will be able to see right then and there what they’re getting, and they’ll be able to do it on their own time.