Students struggle with loan default, program completion at some local colleges

College is difficult.

Two stories featured on Syracuse.com look at higher education in Upstate New York. In particular, both focus on colleges with the highest rates of default for federal borrowers. The numbers show that students at community colleges often struggle with loan repayment. Those same numbers also show that students at technical schools and community colleges struggle with completing their degree programs.

Several schools in the Finger Lakes were featured in both stories. Here’s how those local schools did by the numbers:

Cayuga Community College
Default rate: 23.1 percent
Graduation rate: 27 percent
Median debt: $6,500
Borrowers in repayment: 1,519

Finger Lakes Community College
Default rate: 17.5 percent
Graduation rate: 27 percent
Median debt: $7,814
Borrowers in repayment: 1,655

Monroe Community College
Default rate: 17 percent
Graduation rate: 24 percent
Median debt: $6,500
Borrowers in repayment: 5,016

Tompkins Cortland Community College
Default rate: 16 percent
Graduation rate: 23 percent
Median debt: $8,250
Borrowers in repayment: 1,421

Onondaga Community College
Default rate: 14.1 percent
Graduation rate: 21 percent
Median debt: $5,500
Borrowers in repayment: 2,564

RELATED: Upstate colleges that struggle with debt, completion

Millions of students across the U.S. have defaulted on student loans. Varying degrees of research have been done on the subject, but federal officials have said there are millions of people with defaulted student loans.

The national default rate for community colleges is listed as 18.5 percent. While only one school in the region came in above that number it still is startling given the sheer volume of students community colleges are contending with.

As of 2015, community college graduation rates broke down like this:

  • Within three years, approximately 22 percent of students gradate;
  • Within four years, approximately 28 percent graduate;
  • And within six years, 60 percent of community college students graduate.

The numbers tell us that students aren’t prepared, or are not adequate built for success when entering these institutions. It wouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but due to open enrollment, and a number of other factors — community college students are considered “high risk,” per lenders in the world of higher education.

Combine this with a push for everyone to go to college, and the results are often — nothing more than a pile of debt.

“It’s a small miracle that students successfully navigate college,” said Jeffrey Rosenthal, Vice President for Student Affairs at Cayuga Community College while talking to Syracuse.com. “I think we’ve achieved the goal of access,” Rosenthal added. “What we continue to struggle with is success. We’ve gotten them through the door. What we need to do is help them succeed.”

Many schools, including those featured above, are working to educate students and parents on all aspects of higher education. Whether that means providing educational classes on how financial aid works, or working with them to come up with repayment plans that keep students on track.

Educators are also now looking at recreating the programs, historically offered by these institutions. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the 10 fastest growing occupations through 2024 require an Associates Degree or less.

RELATED: Why so many Upstate students default?

This hard-look at higher education in the region comes as officials begin to examine how effective Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “free college” initiative has been. While the numbers are not out yet — a story published last week by Politico pointed out that serious questions remained about who was reached within the program.

The program, was touted as an assist for those looking for financial help with higher education, who fell in the middle. In particular, the program was intended to reach students. However, outlets in Albany last week pointed out that for the ad campaign pushed out over the summer — digital ad-space was completely ignored.

It was a notable point for critics of the program, who said most of the target audience was digitally active. These reports asked the question: Would a prospective student, like 16- to 25-years-old be seeing an ad that cost millions on television? Or would they be more-likely to see it online?

That report noted that officials hadn’t even purchased the legal rights to place an ad online for the program.

Those in higher education are seeking answers. While community colleges continue to offer the best value for students — a number of other concerns remain.

Also on FingerLakes1.com