Emory Report
October 18, 2004
Volume 57, Number 8


Emory Report homepage   >   Current issue front page

October 18 , 2004
Program's grant will help students manage loan debt

BY Eric Rangus

The Office of Financial Aid has been awarded a grant of nearly $29,000, renewable for two more years, to help fund its debt management program, an effort that educates students in ways to avoid defaulting on their student loans after graduation.

EdFund, a California-based national provider of student loan services, is providing the grant through its EdShare program. Maria Carthon, assistant director for financial aid and debt management coordinator, saw a brochure from EdFund in March advertising the grant and wrote a proposal detailing how she would use the money. Just before the start of fall semester, EdFund wrote her back informing her of the grant.

“We have a responsibility to do more than just administer loans,” said Carthon, who in addition to running the debt management program also advises students in the health professions. “We have a larger responsibility to empower students and give them the tools to plan their financial futures. Student loans play a big part in their lives for many years after they graduate.”

Ten years, Carthon said, is a good ballpark figure of the time it takes an average student to repay his or her college loans. For some students, though, loan repayment can be much more oppressive than that.

While the percentage of Emory graduates who default on their student loans is lower than the national average, the debt they incur has been growing significantly in recent years. The average debt of a 2003 graduate of the School of Law, for example, was $77,517—an increase of nearly 25 percent from 1999 figures. Medical school debt rose 21.7 percent over same time period, and doctoral students’ average debt climbed even faster: 42 percent in just four years.

Emory’s debt management program has been in place for some time, but it was a shoestring operation with one staff person, Carthon, and a very small budget. Carthon’s main responsibility was to provide exit interviews for graduating students and also hold debt management sessions throughout the year.

The sessions are in-depth—possible salaries after graduation, living within one’s means, and different types of loan repayment options are just some of the subjects discussed—but because of budgetary restraints there wasn’t a lot of promotion for the sessions, so the scope of Carthon’s work wasn’t as wide as it could be. With the EdFund grant, that will change.

Carthon plans to put the money ($28,980 for 2004–05 and renewable for two more years for a total of $86,940) to good use. Using the funds, the office plans to hire peer counselors, produce a quarterly debt-management magazine and create a “virtual counselor” that will act as an online forum to address student and parental concerns related to student loans.

To staff these new efforts, Carthon said she plans to hire a mix of work-study students and student workers, adding that the best-equipped people to talk about student loans are often the students themselves.

“Peer financial counseling is students teaching students about financial planning and financial literacy, and teaching it on a level the students can relate to,” Carthon said. “I think students are a little more open to information that comes from their peers.”

Students will produce the content of the newsletter—tentatively titled S.P.L.U.R.G.E., although Carthon admitted she didn’t have a definition for the acronym yet—and run the virtual counselor program. Carthon will head a live chat feature that will be available during office hours.

“I’m very excited,” Carthon said. “There are so many things that $29,000 [a year] can accomplish.”