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Posted on Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 6:03 a.m.

How much does the average University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University graduate owe in loans?

By David Jesse

Christine Tolbert figures she and her husband could get out and enjoy more of Chicago’s nightlife if they weren’t working to pay off more than $45,000 in student debt.

Tolbert, a 2007 University of Michigan graduate, still owes more than $18,000 on the loans she took out to finance her education.

U-M move-in squeeze.jpg

By the time the newest crop of University of Michigan students graduate, their debt could average more than $20,000 each.

“It’s a trade-off,” she said. “I got a really good education that got me a good job, and I’m going to end up making good money. But on the other hand, it sucks to get those bills every month. Really limits the money we have to spend on other things.”

Data released by the federal government show leaving the University of Michigan with tens of thousands of dollars of debt isn't a unique situation.

According to the data, the median level of debt for Michigan graduates as they enter repayment is $20,458.

That puts U-M with the fifth-highest median level of debt among fellow Big 10 conference schools. The top school is Indiana University, with a median debt of $25,766, according to the federal data.

The same data shows the median debt for Eastern Michigan University students is $17,075. That’s the second highest level among Mid-American Conference schools.

The average of the median debt level for the nearly 8,500 colleges and universities listed was $11,141.

The figures were released as part of a large data collection by the U.S. Department of Education in its efforts to create new rules for for-profit colleges.

There’s little debate the cost of college has been climbing. And while university officials across the country have been touting increased financial aid packages, student debt has also been climbing, various experts have said.

An informal poll of 15 U-M students studying on campus Wednesday afternoon showed 13 of them were getting what they called “significant” financial aid packages. Of those, nine said they still anticipated graduating with college loans to be paid.


“I think it’s more a big deal for my mom right now than it is for me right now,” second-year student Jamal Meadows said. “I think it will hit me when I start to get the bills in a few years.”

Pamela Fowler, U-M’s executive director of the Office of Financial Aid, said U-M’s average resident institutional grant aid has increased in each of the last several years. For the 2008-09 school year, the university averaged $6,289 in aid per student, she said. That increased to $6,849 the next school year and is running at about $7,274 for this school year.

Tuition at U-M is just over $12,000 a year, depending on the college a student attends. Living in a residence hall will add between $8,000 and $12,000 to the bill, according to the university’s website.

Just as the cost of tuition can vary depending on the school a student enrolls in, so can the debt level.

For example, the federal data shows the median debt for a student from U-M’s law school is $43,149, and from the medical school is $41,115.

At EMU, 75 percent of the students received some form of aid in 2009-10, said Cynthia Van Pelt, director of EMU’s Office of Financial Aid. That includes various grant programs, private scholarships and work study, among others, she said.

“For a high need (Pell Grant eligible) student, our goal is to provide between 30 percent and 53 percent of the cost of attendance in grant and scholarship funding, depending on their year in school, where they live while in school and their academic strength. We also award work-study and then student loans to meet the remainder of their need,” Van Pelt said.

The aid package is weighing heavily on Mark O’Connell’s mind as he and his wife get ready to send their two high school daughters off to college soon.

“We’ve set aside money for them, but it’s not enough to cover the whole cost,” the Ann Arbor resident said. “We’ve already talked about the cost of college and loans and how much they (the loans) can weigh you down after you graduate. But it's their decision. I think they’ll make a good decision.”

David Jesse covers higher education for He can be reached at or at 734-623-2534.



Sun, Sep 26, 2010 : 12:50 a.m.

I'm an EMU grad and I don't owe a thing (luckily). There are a few programs at EMU that will let you transfer in up to 94 credits. This is what I did. So a combination of taking 9 years to complete my bachelors by only taking a couple classes each semester kept costs very manageable (usually $600 a semester at the community college level, under $2,000 a semester at the University level). Secondly, I only had to do 32 credits at EMU while I transferred in 94 credits from WCC, which kept costs low. Next, I worked full-time throughout my entire post secondary education which kept me out of dorms and kept me from racking up the usual living expenses traditional students usually associate with education. I will admit that my parents helped pay for my education, but they wouldn't have been able to help if I didn't do my education on a budget like I did. Folks can say what they will about my methods of earning my degree. I have a job, but not anything that I wasn't doing just fine with before I earned my bachelor's degree. Prospects for better employment haven't panned out yet. I'm getting calls and a few interviews, but every opening has several applicants (150 for one job I interviewed for). I suppose I'd be getting a little anxious if I had student loan repayment looming. However, at least I'm employed and living relatively debt free besides a mortgage. I am very happy I did finish college, however I would be much less enthusiastic still owing several thousands in loan repayment to look forward to. I would really like to go to grad school, but that more than likely would lead to student loan debt which is a risk I'd rather skip at this time of extreme economic uncertainty. Ironically, most students finishing their undergraduate degrees just assume grad school is the next step if they are unemployed or underemployed after graduation, further feeding into the higher education bubble. My perceptions of being a college degree holder from the time I started college to finishing has been an education in itself. The investment of just about any kind of college degree from any school has been steadily declining over the years with a combination of jobs leaving the country while cheap labor is invited into the country. Furthermore, the cost of college has steadily increased at a faster rate than inflation for decades. I'm really curious to see where its all going to end as the only sector of the economy really flourishing is the post-secondary education sector. How are the higher education proponents going to protect their bloated infrastructure of overpaid faculty and staff when the rest of the population inevitably learn that the jig is up? I suppose there will still be the internationals willing to come to our country to invest into the higher education machine, only to turn around soon after graduation and run right back to their country of origin to invest their newly earned skills into their economies that are flourishing at United States expense.


Fri, Sep 17, 2010 : 1:45 p.m.

@ groland - I would consider the benefit of the mortgage interest deduction and the benefit of tax-free earnings on a 529 if used for education. Of course there's a proper balance, but I think steady, over time on both is logical. @ treetowncartel - I agree, you always pay yourself first. I wasn't advocating a 529 in lieu of retirement savings. I also max out Roth IRA and employer match opportunities every year. Only a fool would not do that.


Fri, Sep 17, 2010 : 11:24 a.m.

Wow these are weird numbers alright. Are we sure these numbers are for now, and not 1970? My friend did 4 years at Mich owed around 100K. He was out of state for a couple of those years though. That was 10 year go also.

Fat Bill

Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 8:58 p.m.

$45,000 is the cost of an entry-level luxury car, but the benefits of a college education will last far longer. $290 per month is what I pay on what were once $62,000 in student loans. Sure I would like to have that extra money to save or spend on something else; without a degree, there would be no money. Buy a good used car and don't be afraid of a student loan payment.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 8:27 p.m.

I don't know where they get these numbers. I WISH I would have been able to graduate with only $20K in debt! I went to a private university which was one of the few institutions that offered my field of study. UofM was another option as an out-of-state student (at the time) and the cost was actually higher than the private school with their financial aid package. I dropped out after my first year when I realized that $10K of grant money at a $30K+ institution meant that after a 5 year BS/MS program I would come out of school $100,000 in debt. As a high school senior I was told "there is so much money out there for college" and my college counselor and I did our darndest to look for it, but it turned out that everything "out there" was geared towards certain ethnic/racial groups, people entering certain fields (especially if their parents were in that field- such as women entering the field of engineering if their parents were members of the National Assn. of Women in Construction) and so on. None of it applied to me. I am now married to a university professor and the worst students, hands down, are the ones who hold down full time jobs and a full time academic schedule. Despite what some people may say it is impossible to do WELL in a full-time degree program while holding down a full-time job. Most students dh has met have perfected the art of crying and whining to their professors for "sympathy", good or passing grades for alleged "effort", intimidation and harassment, etc., in order to get passing or even acceptable grades. Based on the persistence of the students and their utter shock when he declines their requests, we have come to believe that many professors are in the habit of giving in to this pressure too. So students are graduating with debt AND utter lack of skills and knowledge.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 8 p.m.

Millions of students owe billions which can't or won't be repaid due to fewer job prospects in the states, as many well paying tasks are increasingly outsourced at 1/6 the prevailing US wage. Many who borrowed did so based on hope alone. Too often, logic and reasoning was oddly absent from the process leading to a decision to borrow large sums. The schools seem content to encourage all to borrow freely, much like real estate agents and mortgage brokers just a few years ago; the schools seem quite reluctant to dispense even rudimentary financial cautions regarding excessive debt levels; such advice could adversely affect the school's bottom line. Schools encourage the debt...much like the 'realtors' did. We can expect that soon enough, many school debt holders will likely revolt to some extent. Borrower ignorance, virtual fraud-like hyping of the payback of the investment in a diploma - nearly any diploma - have combined to create a recipe for the subprime student loan default debacle, likely within the next couple years. You can expect the politicians to gain serious traction with this issue; Gorc is correct: bankruptcy is currently not an option for these loans (it used to be; ah, good banking lobbyists...), so we will likely see some combination of student loans being allowed in BK proceedings, as well as the new paradigm, debt forgiveness for many young voters, er, students. Unfortunately, in the meantime, many indebted graduates are struggling. The only viable option is to take enough additional classes somewhere to forestall loan payments, but the interest continues to grow. A difficult lesson indeed...


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 7:10 p.m.

Before the financial meltdown in 2008 an unemployment rate of 3% to 4% was considered "acceptable or normal". With today's economy and our consumer driven economy (as opposed to a manufacturing driven economy), I would not be surprised if the new "normal" unemployment rate settles at 8% or 10%. This will create many more hardships or deferred student loans. And student loans can not be discharged in a bankruptcy filing. I wish luck to all graduating students who borrow money.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 5:12 p.m.

"..the median debt for EMU students is $17K..." I don't believe that. "75% of the students at EMU received some form of aid.." WOW I must only know the 25% that are paying full price. Come on EMU show me the figures! Both of my parents graduated from EMU and I will graduate in 2011. We're middle class folks and never qualified for any $$.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 4:48 p.m.

@ jcj, I will clarify and say I have heard people in the financial planning area say it is more important to save money for retirment. there are no alternative means of funding, e.g. sholcarships, granst, work study, student loans. service in the military etc to get you through your glory years. And, you are counting on the fact your kid is even going to go to college.I put myself through school without any financial help form my parents, it can be done.

Mr Go

Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 3:38 p.m.

Graduated from EMU '07. All I can say is for a prospect to look at the school's job office before attending. And U of M at that time,effectively wasn't much more expensive- and a U of M Degree travels terrifically as compared to lesser knowns. I am disabled with $34000 in loans owed,payed off $5600 so far..


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 3:18 p.m.

@treetowncartel "BTW, financial experts say saving money for retirement is more important than saving money for the education of your children." And what qualifies them as experts? Would this be the same experts that lost a fortune or caused others to loose a fortune in the crash? I am very reluctant to label anyone as an expert. That term is thrown around more than a pigskin on football Saturdays. Just look to the courts and both sides will bring in an "expert" with very different "expert" opinions!


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 2:42 p.m.

I will complete my Master's at Eastern this April. I'm in for about $45,000.00 so far.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 12:19 p.m.

One of my 'kids' graduated in 2007 from the UM with a loan under $5K. My current UM college 'kid' is already in debt up to $15K. We are still frustrated by the fact that $4,000 Michigan "Promise" Award was stolen away (a promise is a promise, isn't it?).


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 12:04 p.m.

Undergard is paid off, it was the next degree that has me on the 30 year payment plan. BTW, financial experts say saving money for retirement is more important than saving money for the education of your children.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 11:45 a.m.

I too have a tough time believing these numbers. I went to college 10 years ago and came out owing just under 20k (from a public university).DO these numbers only reflect Michigan resident's whose tuition is markedly cheaper than out of state residents? My guess would be the average for most students these days would be around 40-50k.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 10:39 a.m.

I am not sure saving for college is the best strategy. If you have extra money at the end of the month, I think it it better to pay down your mortgage. If you can have our house paid off by the time kids are ready for college, I think you will save in the long run.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 10:20 a.m.

I don't believe any of these numbers. Personally, I will have about $45,000 after only four years at EMU. Guess I should have gone to U of M?


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 8:32 a.m.

The other option, which was my path, is to find a job that will pay for tuition reimbursement and have the company pay your way.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 8:11 a.m.

My family has opted for modest housing, vehicles, flip-phones, etc, and we contribute considerable amounts monthly to 529 college savings accounts for our children. In my opinion, it's one of the best gifts you can give them - coming out of college debt free.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 6:41 a.m.

Christine Tolbert figures she and her husband could get out and enjoy more of Chicagos nightlife if they werent working to pay off more than $45,000 in student debt. Its a trade-off, she said. I got a really good education that got me a good job, and Im going to end up making good money. But on the other hand, it sucks to get those bills every month. What really sucks Ms. Tolbert is having those bills come every month when you can't find a job. Or the only jobs you can find you didn't need the 4 year college debt to get.