The rate at which people default on their student loans is decreasing nationally, according to the newest numbers from the U.S. Department of Education, even though the average debt owed by each student continues to reach historic highs.
The most recent three-year federal student loan cohort’s default rate dropped to 13.7 percent for students entering loan repayment who attended public, private or for-profit institutions. The rate, which is widely used by the government to assess colleges’ abilities to make education financially beneficial, is down from last year’s 14.5 percent – the highest mark reached during the years after the 2007 recession.
While the national rate at which students default on their loans declined, 650,000 additional students were forced to begin repaying their loans in the U.S. compared to the previous year.
College is also getting more expensive. Students in the class of 2014 on average are projected to graduate with a record $33,000 in debt, according to a study by education researchers at Edvisors.
“While it’s good news that the default rate decreased from last year, the number of students who default on their federal student loans is still to high,” said Arne Duncan, U.S. secretary of education. “We remain committed to working with postsecondary education institutions and borrowers to ensure that debt is manageable.”
However, Fresno State’s individual numbers paint a different picture. The student loan default rate is under half that of the national average. For the most recent cohort, only 6.5 percent defaulted on their loans, according to Fresno State’s financial aid office.
Jerry Loheide, interim director of financial aid at the university, largely attributes the relatively low student default rate to a program he started at Fresno State a decade ago.
The aim of the program is to reduce defaults by connecting people with resources that may alleviate some of the burden that comes with student debt. The financial aid office reaches out to former students who are delinquent on their loan payments and informs them of other alternatives.
“[The financial aid office] sends emails to these students offering them assistance in getting them a deferment or getting them into a repayment plan so they won’t default on their loans,” Loheide said.
He also said similar programs recently implemented by The Department of Education are likely contributing to the national student default rate drop.
Another federal initiative aimed at making student loan debt more manageable are monthly payment caps. President Barack Obama directed The Department of Education in June to enable all student loan borrowers to cap their minimum monthly payments toward the debt at 10 percent of their monthly income. The program is expected to begin next year.
From October 2013 to late September 2014, 4.7 million former students were required to begin making payments on their student debt. About 650,000 of those students defaulted, according to The Department of Education.
While public post-secondary institutions saw only a slight decrease in default rates in the most recent cohort, down from 13 percent to 12.9 percent, the rate for private nonprofit colleges dropped an entire percentage point to 7.2 percent. For-profit universities had the highest rate with 19.1 percent of students defaulting on their debt.