Mudd Leads 5Cs in Federal Loan Debt

The U.S. Department of Education released its College Scorecard Sept. 12, a massive compendium of data about thousands of colleges and universities. The Scorecard includes information about financial aid, completion rates and debt repayment, allowing for detailed comparisons between schools—including the Claremont Colleges.

The Scorecard data show that of the five undergraduate colleges in Claremont, Harvey Mudd College (HMC) has the highest rate of undergraduates taking out federal loans. In 2013, the most recent year for which data were available, 44 percent of Harvey Mudd students received a federal loan. In addition, Harvey Mudd has the highest median federal loan debt for graduates: $25,696, over $10,000 more than the median debt for graduates from any of the other 5Cs that year.

“As is usual, the data only tells a fraction of the story,” Thyra Briggs, HMC’s vice president for Admissions and Financial Aid, wrote in an email to TSL

Briggs pointed to “the large disparity in the resources of the various colleges.” She wrote that Claremont Mckenna College (CMC) and Pomona College have larger endowments than HMC, which enable “more leeway in their financial aid policies,” like Pomona’s loan-free aid packages.

Approximately 50 percent of Harvey Mudd students each year qualify for need-based financial aid, Briggs wrote. But she also described an “interesting borrowing pattern…that is most likely not seen at the other colleges.” 

“In short, the earning potential of our students is remarkable,” Briggs wrote. Because Harvey Mudd students expect a high starting salary—PayScale.com consistently ranks the college No. 1 for return on investment—they are more likely to take out additional loans to cover their family contribution, she explained.

Allison Barry HM ‘16, an engineering major from San Jose, Calif., made the same observation.

“I think that Mudders might be more inclined to take loans just because they think they can pay them back pretty easily after they graduate,” Barry said. 

Barry said that she has taken out a combination of subsidized and unsubsidized federal loans each year. She expects to graduate with approximately $20,000 in loan debt. With a job offer already secured, she believes repayment won’t be difficult. 

“I don’t think I’ve taken as much as a lot of people, so it’s not as concerning for me,” Barry said.

However, she said that she has heard rumors of students who 'bank on' the hope of quick repayment, taking out huge loans.

The Department of Education’s Scorecard data show that 100 percent of Harvey Mudd graduates pay back all loans within three years.

“I don’t expect to pay off my loans that quickly,” Shanel Wu HM ‘16 said. A physics major, Wu plans to attend graduate school next year and is uncertain of how much of their graduate student's stipend they will be able to put toward loan payments.

Wu's loans from the federal government totaled approximately $10,000 each year. Though their family has not struggled with the cost of attendance so far, Wu is concerned because their younger brother will be paying out-of-state tuition at University of California, Santa Cruz this year.

“I know some schools have gone loan-free,” Wu said, “and that’d be really nice if Mudd did that.” 

Wu called student loan debt “a symptom of Mudd’s larger financial situation.” HMC’s endowment lags behind the other 5Cs, yet it had the highest cost of attendance for the 2015-2016 academic year.

“Of course we would love the resources to have more generous financial aid packages,” Briggs wrote, “and we are working on that as part of our current campaign.” The Scorecard numbers, she repeated, “don’t tell the whole story.”

Over the coming weeks, TSL will be reporting more stories from the federal College Scorecard data. You can find a condensed version of the data, specific to the Claremont Colleges, here. See something that needs explaining? Contact investigations@tsl.pomona.edu. 

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