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How Thomas Aquinas College is Reducing Student Debt Loads

Posted: October 9, 2014

“We think it’s terrible how much students have to borrow at many other schools,” says Greg Becher, director of financial aid, in The Catholic Times. “So we have two things we’re doing here at Thomas Aquinas College.”

In a recent story (PDF) in the diocesan newspaper, which serves the faithful of La Crosse, Wisconsin, Mr. Becher discusses how the College is able to spare its students from incurring excessive debt. According to the 2013-2014 Common Data Set, a data source used by most college surveys, members of the Thomas Aquinas Class of 2013 graduated with an average loan debt of just $15,521 — about half the national average of $29,400.

“First, we limit the amount a student has to borrow before they can receive institutional aid — such as work study or a grant from the College,” Mr. Becher explains. The College asks financial-aid students to help bear the cost of their education by taking on no more than $18,000 over four years. “Many other schools will maximize the student loan before they provide institutionally.”

Second, “Thomas Aquinas College has a fixed curriculum, and students finish in four years,” Mr. Becher adds. “That itself limits the amount students have to borrow and the amount parents have to pay for tuition.”

Nationwide, just 39.0 percent of American college students graduate in four years, compared to 73 percent of the students at Thomas Aquinas College. As a result, the total cost of education at a typical public or private college — even if its tuition rate is nominally lower than the College’s — is oftentimes higher, because students must pay for 2-4 additional semesters. (This delay also comes with the opportunity cost of missed time in the workforce after graduation.)

By God’s grace, and thanks to the generosity of many benefactors, the College offers a robust financial aid program that puts the cost of its unique program of Catholic liberal education within reach of any family. Washington Monthly magazine recently placed the College on its list of the nation’s “Affordable Elite” — schools that “give high-achieving non-wealthy students a break in price.” The Princeton Review includes Thomas Aquinas College as one of only 75 schools on its “Best Value Colleges” list, and one of only 10 on its “Financial Aid Honor Roll.” U.S. News & World Report ranks the College as No. 26 among the Top 40 national liberal arts colleges on its “Best Values” list.

“We don’t want to burden students with an unusually large amount of debt after graduation,” says Mr. Becher. “We want them to be productive members in their communities and not hampered in their job decisions by a large amount of debt, and not burdened if they decide to marry or go on to the religious life with difficult amounts to re-pay.”