TTU students paying off school loans well above national, state average

Paying off student loans is, well, just not something university graduates really look forward to doing. And, unfortunately, nearly 10 percent of those across the U.S. with student loans default on their loans, giving their universities marks against them.

But Tennessee Tech University graduates are paying off their loans at well below the national average and at one of the state's best levels, which in turn makes it easier for incoming students who need financial aid, said Ray Holbrook, director of Financial Aid.

"For three consecutive years, we have been below the 10 percent rate, which means we've been freed from some loan restriction," he explained. "In the region and in Tennessee, Tennessee Tech has one of the lowest rates for a four-year public institution."

The most recent numbers by the federal government show TTU had an eight percent default rate in 1996, a 7.5 percent default rate in 1997 and, according to preliminary numbers, a 6.1 default rate in 1998. Other numbers show 8.4 percent in 1995 and 9.0 percent in 1994.

"If people work after graduation, they do pay off their loans," Holbrook said. "And our graduates find good employment, so that has paid off for us."

What kind of "perks" do new students at Tennessee Tech needing financial aid receive due to TTU's continually low loan default rates?

For one, freshmen don't have to wait 30 days after classes begin to receive their money. The 30 day wait is considered a precaution because, the theory is, that some freshmen students will drop out of school within those first weeks and the loan may not go for only school costs. However, at TTU, freshmen students are considered low-risk for this behavior.

Also, with its low loan default rating, TTU can disburse a student's loan at one time during a semester instead of in two payments during one semester, giving students all the money they need, when they need it.

"We saw that opening, with the 30 days and the one-time disbursement a semester, and worked very hard with our graduates to make sure they could pay back their loans," Holbrook said.

"What we have going for us is that we get quality students, the students get a quality education here, and when they graduate they are able to get jobs, and, in turn, pay back their loans," he added. "We prepare them for the future so they can get jobs, so I believe a Tennessee Tech education gets a great deal of credit for our low loan default rates."

At TTU, approximately two out of three students receives some kind of financial aid and the university is approaching distributing $12 million in loans a year.

Among other Tennessee Board of Regents schools and state public universities, Tennessee Tech has taken the lead in focusing significant effort into continually lowering its default ratings. In a groundbreaking news, the Financial Aid Office also has a person assigned to following up with those who are delinquent or default on their loans, working with them to find alternatives to paying off their debt.

The Financial Aid Office also offers some personal one-on-one and small group counseling with students and has an easy-to-read and navigate web page with a great deal of financial aid information that gives students and their families as well as alums any and all the information they may need, 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week.

"We want families to make informed decisions and discuss things like how much debt they should assume. We really want people to think a lot before they borrow. We present as much information as we can for our clients and let them make the best decision for themselves," said Holbrook.

"Our philosophy is that, if we care about our students, we care about not only what they do here but also consider what they do after," he said. "I don't think our job ends when they graduate Ð it just changes."

For more information about Tennessee Tech University's Financial Aid Office, visit http://www2.tntech.edu/financialaid/ or write to P. O. Box 5076, Roaden University Center, Room 214, Tennessee Technological University. The telephone number is : (800) 255-8881 or (931) 372-3073 and the fax number is: (931) 372-6309. -30-