Much has been written about student loans. Typical of mainstream media and politicians, much of it is either flat-out wrong or at least misrepresented. I am a graduate of Ohio Northern Univ. and recently received an email with a letter from the President, Daniel A. DiBiasio. An ONU grad was featured in both The New York Times and NPR as an example of excessive student loans.

The Times article appeared in the May 13 Sunday issue and Kelsey Griffith, an ONU Class of 2012 graduate, was prominently featured because she had accumulated $120,000 in loans.

One sentence is very telling about the type of reporting you get in national media–“Because the article has been so widely distributed and omitted relevant facts, I am writing to provide important information the authors were given but failed to report.”

From DiBiasio’s letter:

First, I would like to address the article itself. It is not hard to feel very sympathetic toward Kelsey and the harsh difficulty she will have paying back such a huge debt. However, it is important to note that her level of borrowing is not typical.The New York Times article focused its attention on students with the highest debt. Those with a debt of $120,000 are outliers and are not the norm, either at ONU or nationally. Indeed, those with debt over $100,000 make up fewer than 3 percent of students nationally.

And yet, how is it that students can graduate from college with a debt of $120,000? Outside of a family’s particular financial circumstances, two factors can and do significantly raise a student’s debt load: changing majors and taking longer than four years to graduate. For example, the average debt for students with loans who graduate from the College of Business Administration in four or fewer years is $42,000. But for those who take more than four years, the average is $52,000.

What is most disturbing about the article and a related NPR story is the implication that the University advises students to ignore the sticker price and suggests they don’t need to worry about costs. ONU never has offered such advice nor suggested to students that they take a worry-free attitude about cost, and we never will. What we do tell our students is that very few pay the full price because so many receive financial aid, and that we will work with them to do all we can to make ONU affordable in light of their particular financial circumstances.

We do all we can to counsel families about the real costs of a Northern education and try to fully explain the options for paying those costs. The final decision about how to pay for the education comes down to the family. When the family chooses to go out to private lenders to finance their student’s education, the responsibility for that financial decision and its outcome falls primarily on the student and their family.

Another disturbing feature of the article is how it ignores those who manage debt effectively and are receiving the benefits of a college education and meeting their reasonable loan repayment obligations. Derek Thompson writing in The Atlantic fills the conspicuous void in the Times story when he writes:

College grads still earn more, work longer, and are employed at higher rates than everybody else. Their investment – that is, their debt – benefits the country at large in the form of a more-skilled workforce, higher productivity, higher GDP, more taxes, and so on. Newspapers can’t report on this part of the student debt crisis, because there is no headline statistic to report on.

All of these facts – our low default rate, our high placement rate, and our high ROI rate – together with efforts to identify students at financial risk and expand financial literacy activities, were shared with the Times reporter. None of them were included in the article.

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