Report: UT students owed less, on average, than ETSU students

Zach Vance • Updated Aug 10, 2017 at 8:44 AM

As the first day of fall classes inches closer, the line of college students standing outside financial aid offices will only get longer.

Paying for a postsecondary education is becoming a greater burden for many college students, especially with tuition increasing roughly 63 percent between 2006 and 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Despite that rising cost, it’s still logical to pursue a career by investing in a college education, and for some, that means borrowing money to earn a degree.

Online student loan marketplace LendEDU published a detailed report Tuesday providing a look at the $1.4 trillion “student loan crisis,” examining the average amount owed by student borrowers and the percentage of students graduating with debt for more than 1,100 colleges and universities.

Nationally, the average debt owed per student actually decreased 1.5 percent between the classes of 2016 and 2015, the LendEDU report stated. But in Tennessee, the trend went the other way.

While the Volunteer State still ranked No. 34 nationally in average amount owed, average debt actually increased 1.5 percent per borrower compared to last year.

An interesting twist in the report was how much less, on average, students at the University of Tennessee owed compared to students at East Tennessee State University, despite UT’s tuition being significantly more.

The LendEDU report concluded ETSU’s average student debt was $27,866 — ranking 14th statewide and third among Tennessee public colleges — while UT’s average amount owed was $24,420, a $3,446 difference between the two.

For the 2015-2016 school year, ETSU’s estimated in-state tuition cost was $8,341, and UT’s was $12,724, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

A plethora of factors likely contributed to the difference in the average amount borrowed between the two schools, including available scholarships and the income levels of student households.

“UT Knoxville is dedicated to providing financial aid and scholarships packages for our students to reduce the likelihood of borrowing through the student loan programs,” according to a statement from UT Director of Financial Aid Jeff Gerkin. “Scholarship programs, such as the TN Pledge Scholarship, provide funding for our students from low-income families and create access opportunities for students to attend and graduate from UT Knoxville without the burden of excessive levels of student loan debt.”

Gerkin also stated UT encourages students to use the student loan programs only as a “last resort,” and when it is necessary to borrow, do it conservatively.

“Through these efforts, UT Knoxville has experienced great success in helping our students reduce their overall student loan debt,” Gerkin stated. 

Catherine Morgan, ETSU’s director of financial aid, is also an advocate for educating students about borrowing, but was unavailable for comment Wednesday due to the busy time of year, a spokesman said.

In May, she told the Johnson City Press, “Student loan debt is not a bad debt, it’s an investment. It’s an investment in your future, but make sure what you’re borrowing, you’re going to be able to pay back with the job that you’re going to get in the future.”

ETSU's lowering student debt tactics include offering information about repayment plans and encouraging high school students to consider the cost of education before going to college.

Another key factor lowering average debt at UT is more students graduating on time because of several programs that encourage students to take at least 15 hours a semester. Between 2010 and 2016, UT’s six-year graduation rate increased from 60 percent to 69 percent.

Among private institutions, Milligan College ranked 11th, with students owing an average of $28,510 for the class of 2016, but the LendEDU report did find that 63 percent of Milligan College students graduated with debt.

“Our office offers loan counseling, instructional materials on available loans, as well as face-to-face consultations, which are available for each student about loans and all types of financial aid,” Jacqui Steadman, Milligan’s vice president of business and finance, said.

“At Milligan, most students do not pay the total cost, which is $7,000 below the national average for private colleges. In addition, our low student-faculty ratio enables us to provide personalized attention to students, which has helped the college achieve a 25 percent higher retention rate than other private and state universities.”

Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook atFacebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.


LendEDU’s Student Loan Debt by School 2017  2016
East Tennessee State University    
Average Student Debt per Borrower $27,866 $27,866
Percentage of Graduates w/Student Debt 54% 54%
Milligan College    
Average Student Debt per Borrower $27,418 $27,146
Percentage of Graduates w/Student Debt 63% 67%
University of Tennessee    
Average Student Debt per Borrower $24,420 $24,272
Percentage of Graduates w/Student Debt 51% 52%
State Average    
Average Student Debt per Borrower $26,611 $26,218
Percentage of Graduates w/Student Debt 57% 57%

*Data collected by LendEDU. https://lendedu.com/blog/student-loan-debt-statistics-by-school-by-state-2017#Tennessee

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