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Not Graduating on Time

Dylan Marich grabs another box from the moving truck to trek it into an unfamiliar house. He smiles at his family friends as they walk by, happy to help them move into their new home, but also happy to be making a little extra money.

After making a $2,000 student loan payment, Dylan Marich is left with about $100 to live on each month. Dylan’s life is far from what he expected it would be after graduating: spending most of his free time at home with his parents, searching for odd jobs to make money, and constantly looking for deals and coupons for when he does go out.

“It’s college life to an extreme,” he said.

Since graduating in the summer of 2015, Dylan is left drowning in about $145,000 of debt from student loans and the interest that has piled up after five and a half years as a student.

Dylan changed his major from physics education to applied physics his junior year at Ball State. After making this change, Dylan was put behind when a class that is only offered every two years was filled before he had the chance to register. From that point on, Dylan knew he would not be graduating in four years.

More than half of Ball State students do not obtain their degree in four years, along with 81 percent of college students at public four-year institutions nationwide. At two-year institutions, 95 percent of students fail to receive their degree on time. While students fail to graduate on time for a multitude of reasons, many are left with overwhelming debt.

According to Complete College America, the cost of an extra year of college costs $22,826 on average. Extending your undergraduate career beyond four years means loss of most scholarships. This means students or their families paying out of pocket, or rack up an extra year of loan debt.

Ball State has 1,850 students that are part of the 21st Century Scholars Program, which pays for the tuition of Indiana residents at 86 higher education institutions in the state. The program is for low-income families and lasts four years. That means, if a student does not complete their degree in the allotted four years, they must find other means to pay for the cost.

Like many other students, Dylan’s education was financed completely by loans. While loans are costly on their own, the interest that continues to build each year is what hinders many recent graduates from starting their lives. Dylan and his parents were unaware of the interest during his time at Ball State, and were surprised to see the amount of his debt when he graduated in 2015. While they could have began paying off his loans when he was still a student, he and his parents were not aware of the exponential amount of interest building.

Students who take longer than four years to get their degree are faced with debt from an extra loan, as well as the typically high interest that begins as soon as the loan is taken out. Dylan’s interest rates varied throughout his time in college, from 2 to 8.5 percent, increasing his debt immensely each year those loans went unpaid.

Not only are students paying for an extra year of schooling when they don’t graduate in four years, they are losing an estimated $45,327 by delaying their entrance into the workforce, according to a report by Complete College America. This along with expenses adds up to a total cost of $68,153. This cost will vary for different career fields, but still leaves students losing out.

Dylan says that his current job as a robot machinist, working with machine parts, is the extent of what he can do with his bachelor’s degree. Not wanting to rack up more debt, Dylan is putting off graduate school for now. Until he gets his master’s degree, he is stuck where he is.

As a robotics engineer, Dylan could be making an average salary of over $80,000, according to PayScale, a company that provides information about average salaries. But he needs his master’s degree, which he won’t get until his current loans are gone.

“It’s better to sacrifice my career and pay off all of the loans I have now, than to throw more gasoline on the fire,” he says.

Failing to complete a course is a large factor in not graduating on time, according to an email by university spokesperson Joan Todd. Dropping a course after the first five days of each semester means losing out on those credits, and possibly falling behind.

Acting President Terry King spoke about this issue at the Your Money Matters event at Ball State on April 14, and said that the biggest concern facing students is not taking 15 credit hours each semester.

While 12 hours is what is considered to be a full time student, it does not put students on track to graduate in four years. Taking this amount of credits over the course of four years results in 96 credits, 24 below the requirement to graduate.

Ball State takes part in the 15 To Finish campaign, encouraging students to enroll in at least 15 credit hours per semester in order to obtain their degree within four years. While encouraged, not all students will follow through.

Dylan took around 16 credits each semester, which should have easily put him on track to graduate on time, but missing out on that class his junior put him behind pace for on-time graduation.

“[My loans] are hindering my ability to get my life started.” Dylan says.

Dylan expects to spend about 15 years paying off his loans from the 5 and a half years he spent at Ball State before he moves on to follow his dream.

Until then, he works, earns the money that he can, and pays back his loans a little at a time.

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