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Home / Articles / · Archive / News & Columns /  Feature Sidebar | Lend Me Your Years: Utah students face down a bad economy by staying in school
News & Columns

Feature Sidebar | Lend Me Your Years: Utah students face down a bad economy by staying in school

By Eric S. Peterson
Posted // November 26,2008 - With a frozen credit market, crumbling economy and a shrinking job pool, Utah college students are finding the prospect of entering the real world seriously depressing. How are they coping? By staying in school. n

Even while saddling themselves with added college-loan debt, Utah students are finding the state’s colleges and universities a good place to weather a stormy economy. The state’s higher-education experts tout a solidly funded student-loan program that often defers payments or interest until after graduation. That, along with Utah’s relatively affordable tuition rates and low cost of living have made staying in school or going back to school a no-brainer for many who hope to graduate into a more job-friendly economy.

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Even for students like 24-year-old Harry Cross, who had to turn to a loan through the private sector to cover tuition at private liberal-arts school Westminster College (tuition, room and board this academic year comes to about $30,000), he didn’t linger long over the decision.

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“You’re not going to be able to attend college without having to pay for it,” he says. Cross, who lives in Salt Lake City and came to Westminster after working for several years in motion-picture production, hopes to gain enough education to one day own and manage his own production company. Majoring in Westminster’s art administration program, Cross has already racked up $20,000 in loans through Citibank. Working through a private lender, the interest on Cross’ loan has already started compounding with the bank at a rate of 11.5 percent.

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“I plan on continuing my career in major motion pictures, not as some production assistant on the bottom of the totem pole but as someone who is creatively in charge,” Cross says. If he is unable to supplement the cost of his education with scholarships, his loan debt could reach $80,000 for a four-year degree. Cross is unfazed by the numbers.

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“That’s the plan, and I’ve left myself no other alternatives,” he says, casually.

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While the credit market has made the student-loan business less attractive to private lenders, many of them are still making loans but with more stringent conditions on credit scores or by requiring co-signers. Cross lucked out by qualifying with good credit but hopes to get some scholarships for next year. “I’ve been networking around and asking how people pay for school and they all say, ‘Mom and Dad, Mom and Dad.’ It makes you really want to smack them,” Cross says, adding that he hopes to find scholarships to help him through the rest of his time at Westminster. “Hopefully next year, I won’t be crying to Citibank for another loan.”

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Like others in his situation, Cross saw that now was a good time to go back to school. While he had worked for six years in motion-picture production and broadcasting, the work was inconsistent. He helped produce documentaries, TV news broadcasts and dramas, including an MTV grab at the High School Musical demographic called American Mall—a musical set in Provo. He also helped in the production of the 2006 film American Pastime, set during World War II and dramatizing the lives of Japanese-Americans detained in the Topaz, Utah, internment camp who formed their own baseball team and challenged the locals.

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From Spyhop Productions documentaries to broadcast work with KSL Channel 5, Cross fell in love with the production business but found the paychecks to be pretty irregular. Getting a secure salary and fulfilling his dreams meant he would need more school. “I want to make my movies,” Cross says. “I don’t want to make other people’s movies.”

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Not only was additional schooling a more secure way to prepare for the future, but Cross’ major in art administration provides the perfect intersection of creative production and business administration he’ll need to start his own company when he graduates in four years. He hopes.

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In Utah County, students at the community college-turned university, Utah Valley University, are also finding this the perfect time to get more education. UVU spokesman Chris Taylor says enrollment has spiked 12 percent this fall—with a 30-percent increase in transfer students over last year.

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“When the economy is slumping, it’s not abnormal to see more students coming back to receive more training,” Taylor says, adding that part of the bump in enrollment is also due to the institution’s recently acquired University status. Taylor says, overall, UVU students have not felt the brunt of the credit crisis affecting federal student loans which, at this point, remain funded in Utah.

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“As an institution, we fit a good model for lending,” Taylor says. “Our average amount borrowed is low, our tuition cost is relatively low and we have low default rates.”

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Taylor sees the cycle of graduates moving from a troubled job market back to higher education as healthy for the state economy.

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“There are people coming back to school and yes, that requires a bit of an investment on the part of the state. But when this flux of students becomes a flux of graduates, that flux is going to very much contribute back to the economy.” Taylor cites UVU’s placement rate as proof of his position—87 percent of 2007 graduates found employment in the state.

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“We’ve always tried to help students understand that this is the best investment they’ll ever make,” says David Feitz, director of the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority.

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Feitz says Utah is operating “as business as usual” despite the credit crisis, because of state mechanisms that have guaranteed loan funding for the more than 100,000 Utah students who receive federal loans for the next two years. Utah students can also take comfort in the fact that their average load of student-loan debt at graduation is only slightly more than half the national average. According to UHEAA numbers, Utahns graduate with an average debt of $12,000—compared to $20,000 nationally.

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With low tuition and low average student-loan interest rates (6 percent for 2008 loans), Feitz says Utah students should take every opportunity to get more education now.

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“The relative low cost and high quality of Utah institutions makes it a great investment. This is a great time to go back. And the loans are available, so they don’t need to worry about not attending. When the economy does turn around—and these things are cyclical—getting back into [the job market] with more education would obviously help them.”

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For Cross, shouldering a student-loan debt in the tens of thousands at an 11.5 percent interest rate, more education is all part of the bigger picture.

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“That’s something that’s constantly on my mind— trying to get from where I’m at to where I want to be,” Cross says. “Part of that is learning how business is done, how to create a company and how to walk the walk and talk the talk. If it comes down to it and I don’t get any scholarships, and I have to call up the bank and say, ‘Hey I need another X amount of dollars for next semester’—I’ll do it, and that’s my bottom line.” tttt

 
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