Student debt continues to climb higher

Liberty — Liberty University is one of the least expensive private institutions in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Photo credit: Ruth Bibby

Statistics from a report released by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) place Liberty University as having one of the lowest tuition costs amongst private universities in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The report, primarily prepared by Dr. Michael Poliakoff and Armand Alacbay, looked at 15 public four-year colleges and universities and 24 private institutions, including Liberty. It compared the colleges’ tuition costs, courses studied, retention rates, how long it takes students to graduate and the percent annual income of tuition compared to Virginia household income.

“We here at ACTA, not unlike a lot of other organizations, are very concerned about the rise of student debt,” Poliakoff said.

Student debt, according to recent numbers provided by FinAid, a site for college financial aid information, has reached $976.9 billion, surpassing consumer debt. According to the January 2012 release of consumer credit by the Federal Reserve System, revolving consumer credit outstanding, debt that consumers rack up over a fiscal year that does not include most loans, was last reported to be $798.3 billion.

Poliakoff said that with such an exceedingly high difference between student loans and consumer credit debt, universities need to begin lowering their tuition rates and provide an education that equips students to compete in the job market.

“It is the solemn duty of institutions to do everything possible to lower their costs and be as sufficient as possible so that they can hold these tuition rates down,” Poliakoff said.

In comparison with other private four-year universities and colleges, Liberty was the third cheapest institution, charging only $18,064 for the 2010-11 school year, according to the ACTA report. To compare that cost to other universities, the University of Richmond charged $41,610 and Washington and Lee University charged $40,387.

According to Poliakoff, graduating on time is a major contributor towards keeping student debt low. What was once a four-year degree now takes some students five or six years to complete, Poliakoff said.

“For students who are concerned about the economics of getting an education and having a career, as well they should, finishing efficiently is a key issue,” Poliakoff said.

According to the ACTA report, the latest graduation rates provided to them by Liberty, in 2004, places only 30 percent of students graduating in four years, while 48 percent graduate in six.

“That means two years’ delay of getting into the work force, another two years of tuition,” Poliakoff said.

The ACTA report continues to get even more depressing, Poliakoff said. Of the universities and colleges surveyed, only two require a survey of American government or history, no university requires an economics course to be taken and only half of the schools require literature or college-level foreign language at an intermediate level, the report revealed.

“There is a push in higher education in doing what is the newest and most innovative. That’s very often done at the expense of the core learning that all students need,” Poliakoff said.

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