President Roderick J. McDavis

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Chipping away at OHIO’s student debt

The following letter to the editor was written by Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis and appeared in the Aug. 20 edition of The Post.

Today, in the face of rising college costs and decreased family earnings, the financial burden on students is greater than ever before. In 2012, Ohio University graduates who borrowed faced an average debt of $27,060 – contributing to a national debt burden that today includes nearly $1.2 trillion in outstanding student-loan debt. While the prevalence of student borrowing at Ohio University is slightly less than national averages, we still see approximately 66 percent of graduates carrying some student debt on graduation day.

The good news for Ohio University students and graduates is that their investment ultimately pays off – not only in terms of personal growth but also in actual dollars. According to a recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a person with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn about $1.2 million more, from ages 22 to 64, than someone with a high-school diploma alone. But the long-term value of higher education does not negate the obstacles that substantive debt could pose to our graduates’ short-term opportunities – such as buying a car or a first home.

With graduates’ well-being in mind, Dr. Pam Benoit, our Executive Vice President and Provost, recently tasked a workgroup of academic leaders and administrators with assessing and addressing student debt at Ohio University. The work of this group, combined with leadership initiatives in the areas of student scholarships and awards, are serving to alleviate recent tuition increases and lessen financial strain on Ohio University students and graduates.

As you may know, private gift commitments at Ohio University increased by 34 percent during the 2013-14 fiscal year, which enabled us to surpass our $450 million dollar fundraising goal. A lesser-known Campaign highlight is the growth of gifts for student scholarships, which increased by 111 percent thanks to the concerted efforts of our University Advancement team.

A prime example is The OHIO Match, through which Ohio University aims to raise $75 million in scholarship funding during the next five years ($50 million in gifts matched with $25 million of University funds). Already, some 2,800 donors have committed more than $3.2 million to match-eligible accounts and have established 48 new, named scholarships.

Our commitment also is reflected in The OHIO Signature Awards Program, a new approach to institutional aid which will generate an additional $2.1 million above previous years for new freshmen in the form of merit-based scholarships, need-based grants, and awards. The Signature Awards includes our new Gateway Assist Award, which will provide high-achieving, high-need returning scholarship students an average of $156 more aid in the 2013-14 academic year to off-set the tuition increase.

In addition, the workgroup strongly recommended transparency and predictability with regard to college costs. This included support for The OHIO Guarantee program, which will soon ensure constant rates for tuition, room and meal plans throughout a student’s four years at Ohio University. We believe this will enable students to better plan for college costs. It also ensures that Ohio University’s financial aid package will retain its value for students who maintain academic performance.

Ohio University recognizes that our students take on great responsibility by investing in college. Likewise, we take our responsibility to students very seriously. To this end, we are committed to the well-being of our students and graduates in every regard. As seen from the examples above, Ohio University is forging creative solutions to college affordability and college planning. We are addressing student debt because we want students to succeed – not only today, but in years to come.