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Area Schools Repay Loans
September 16, 2005

Graduates of West Michigan colleges and universities have some of the lowest default rates on student loans in the state according to a report this week from the U.S. Department of Education.

Area schools mirror a nationwide improvement in student loan default rates.

Among the best is Calvin College where in fiscal year 2003 (the most recent year for which figures are available) just 0.4 percent of the school's graduates making loan repayments were in default. For 2002 Calvin's figure was 1.1%, while in 2001 it checked in at 1.2%.

Calvin director of financial aid Ed Kerestly says the low loan default rate for Calvin graduates is encouraging.

"While the focus of a Calvin education," he says, "is to prepare students for a lifetime of experiences, not just one job, it is good to know that our graduates can and do meet their financial commitments."

Calvin vice president Tom McWhertor says that part of the reason graduates of Calvin are able to maintain a low default rate is that a Calvin education is affordable and the school's scholarship and financial aid program is effective.

"The cost of a Calvin education is within reach for most families," he says, "and our graduates are not burdened with great debt when they graduate."

The average indebtedness for Calvin graduates who have student loans is about $18,500 for the most recent year, not an insubstantial amount says Kerestly, but less than the amount people often borrow to buy a car.

And unlike a car, Kerestly says, the value of a college education appreciates! Kerestly notes that a college graduate will make a million dollars more over the course of her career than someone without a college degree.

Nationwide, the Department of Education said, just 4.5 percent of college graduates who began making payments in fiscal 2003 defaulted on their debt - an all-time low. Using statistics from schools and lenders, the Education Department's default rate is based on the number of students who go 270 days without making a payment during their first year of repaying a student loan.

The national student loan default rate reached a high of 22.4 percent in FY 1990 but has declined steadily since. U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings credited schools, loan industry partners and the Education Department's Federal Student Aid office for their concerted efforts to help students repay their loans on time.

Numbers for most West Michigan colleges and universities were below the 4.5% national average.

For example, for fiscal year 2003, Reformed Bible College was at a perfect 0.0% (down from 3,7 percent in 2002), Aquinas College was at a sterling 0.3% (down from 1.9% in 2002 and 4.7% in 2001), Hope College was at 0.5% (down from 1.0% in 2002), Grand Valley at 1.9% (down from 2.8% in 2002), Cornerstone at 2.1% (up slightly from 1.8% in 2002), Grace Bible College at 2.3% (up from 0.0% in 202) and Grand Rapids Community College at 6.2% (down from 12.8% in 2002).