LEARNING LESSONS: Johnson & Wales University financial aid officer Stacy Bateni, left, speaks with senior Susie Whittemore. Among the school’s offerings is the iGrad program, which advises students on how to handle student-loan debt.
Undergraduates at some local schools are turning to financial-literacy programs to help them cope with college debt, which can easily exceed the mortgage of a modest home.
The Rhode Island School of Design, Johnson & Wales University and Brown University all have financial-literacy programs, despite the fact that their default rates differ substantially.
Amanda Silverman, 22, who will graduate in August from JWU with degrees in fashion merchandizing, retail marketing and graphic design, expects to have approximately $40,000 in student-loan debt – even though she works two part-time jobs in addition to going to school.
Silverman has explored the financial-literacy iGrad program, a third-party program JWU offers, to learn about what typical college debt is and how to handle and pay back what one owes. Some scholarship money, part of which comes from working in the university’s communications and media-relations department, helps offset her debt.
The program, which includes budgeting tips and personal fiscal-planning help as well as information about student loans, “has helped me to understand where I fall [compared with peers],” Silverman said. “When you find out how much debt you have, it’s not as bad as it seems, so you feel like you’re not trapped under a mountain of debt you’ll never be able to pay back.”
There are 7,697 registered users of the program across the entire university, with nearly half, 3,709, just in Providence, said Lynn M. Robinson, executive director of student academic and financial services for JWU.
Brown built its program, “Get Your Bearings,” and branded it in 2011.
JWU’s default rate in 2010, the most recent year available, was 14.6 percent, said Robinson. Brown’s 2010 default rate was 2 percent, said Keirsten Connors, Brown’s loan-office manager. RISD’s default rate for 2010 was 4.2 percent, said Anthony Gallonio, director of financial aid.
While Rhode Island’s average default rate for its independent colleges and universities is 12.8 percent, nearly 2 percent less than the national average of 14.7 percent, more colleges are looking at adding financial-literacy programs, said Gallonio, Daniel P. Egan, president of the Providence-based Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Rhode Island, and Charles Kelley, executive director of the R.I. Student Loan Authority.
“We’re seeing more and more colleges adopting some form of financial-literacy program,” Gallonio said.