By ROXANN MILLER
7:00 AM EDT, June 2, 2013
Leslie Hoover graduated from Wilson College in May with a double major in accounting and economics. She’s one of the fortunate ones to graduate debt-free. Some of her friends weren’t as lucky and are scrambling to find jobs.
Six months after you stop taking classes, your federal student loan bills come due, Hoover said.
College seniors with student loans graduate with an average of more than $25,000 in debt, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Wilson College is helping ease the burden of student loans by offering one of the first debt buyback programs in higher education. The program rewards academic success.
While at Wilson, Hoover was involved in developing the debt buyback program, which will be available to students entering the college in the fall of 2014.
“It’s also an incentive for students to put in a little extra effort. A lot of time during that first year of college, students have a hard time transitioning,” Hoover said. “I think that knowing you might be able to have some of your debt bought back if you work hard is very appealing to a lot of students.”
The college will pay up to $10,000 toward a student’s federal Stafford Loan debt if the student meets prescribed academic and service requirements, according to a statement from the college.
To qualify, students must be first-time college students and earn a degree in four years or less of continuous, full-time enrollment at Wilson.
“It provides an innovative form of support for Wilson students while serving as a powerful incentive for academic success, service to the community and participation in the life of the campus,” Wilson College President Barbara K. Mistick said. “We want to encourage students to take full advantage of the college experience while reducing the burden of student debt.”
Buyback amounts vary depending on a student’s final grade-point average. The amounts are $10,000 for those with a GPA of 3.9 or higher; $7,500 for those with a GPA between 3.7 and 3.89; and $5,000 for those with a GPA between 3.5 and 3.69.
The buyback program has other requirements, including a pledge that students borrow only what is needed for educational expenses, participation in financial literacy programs and participation in activities that benefit the Wilson community.
The debt buyback program was approved by the Wilson College Board of Trustees in January as part of a bold series of measures aimed at rejuvenating the college called “The Wilson Today Plan.”
Brian Speer, Wilson College’s vice president for marketing and communications, said the debt buyback program is part of a plan to increase enrollment and ensure a healthy, financial foundation for the college.
College leaders hope the plan will steer a path of financial solvency for Wilson, which is operating on a $20 million budget with a deficit of just less than $3 million and deferred maintenance costs of $10 million.
In addition to creating the debt buyback plan, Wilson’s trustees voted to reduce tuition by $5,000, or 17 percent, to $23,745 in the 2014-15 academic year. Last fall, the board agreed to freeze tuition for 2013-14 at $28,745 for the third year in a row, he said.
Wilson officials expect the plan to cost up to $100,000 per year, depending on variables. The college will fund the plan through additional revenue generated by increased enrollments and retention of students participating in the program.