When a student decides to go to Saint Peter’s University, there’s an understanding among those who attend concerning why they have all decided to pursue their higher education here. For many students, it is not their first-choice school. For others, it’s not even their second or third choice school. What many students say is that what gets them to come to Saint Peter’s University lies in their acceptance envelope in the form of their financial aid documents. In these documents it appears as if everything is laid out which assists the parents in figuring out how to pay for school. This usually makes the decision an easy one for a home with a fading income.
However, this kind of offer is only so appealing to many because they are often children of parents who did not go to college and had dreams for their children to pursue an education they could not themselves afford. When asked, many students at Saint Peter’s reveal that they are often the first person in their family to even attempt to gain a college education. Saint Peter’s is creating an opportunity to gain an education for many students who never imagined they would be able to go to college, but such blinded optimism, as some students feel, is what is stopping many of their classmates from realizing that the average debt a Saint Peter’s student will leave with is growing closer and closer to the $30,000 mark.
College Data reports that the average debt of a 2010 graduate from Saint Peter’s University was $19,553, but for 2011 graduates, the average debt was reported to be $28,638, according to US News’ College Files. This means that within a year, the graduates of Saint Peter’s University’s indebtedness increased over $9,000, which equates to a whopping 46.4%. Many students we spoke to say this creates a predicament, as many starting yearly salaries in various professional fields are lower than the amount of debt most Saint Peter’s students will graduate with.
“I cannot even begin to imagine what my debt will be after I graduate in May,” said a senior at Saint Peter’s who wished to remain anonymous because they had difficulties with financial aid. “I’m just afraid that if I cannot land a job immediately after college, I will never be able to go to grad school like I planned and my credit will be shot.” A slow economic recovery also has students worried as they prepare to look for jobs. The economy also seems to be having an effect on the school’s enrollment. Even graduates who are now forced to confront their astronomical debt are stuck looking back on their days at Saint Peter’s with confusion as to how they were sent out into the world so unprepared.
“I loved [Saint Peter’s College] – I was probably one of the few people I knew who truly loved going to SPC,” said Danielle Woods, a 2010 graduate who majored in Communications and hoped to find a career Broadcast Journalism, in an email interview. “For the most part, I enjoyed my classes, was a captain on the cheerleading team and I had a great group of friends. Undergrad was nothing short of amazing. As much as I did love SPC, I didn’t really feel well equipped to enter the real world. I want a career in broadcast journalism, specifically television news, and I know I didn’t learn enough at the college.” Meanwhile, the school itself seems to be suffering from the effects of a slowly recovering economy.
According to About.com’s College Apps section, Saint Peter’s 2010 enrollment was listed as 3,010 total students, while US News reports 2011’s enrollment figure as 2,986 total students. Though the decrease between both years does not seem that drastic, many students and professors have expressed that they feel that there’s an uneasiness surrounding the topic of enrollment.
Another worry is the amount of money being invested into the marketing of the school and its new image– including that of the $35 million dollar Mac Mahon Student Center. Some ask, what will happen if the new student center doesn’t do what President Eugene Cornacchia hopes it will? What if it doesn’t bring in new students to Saint Peters?
Meanwhile, the school has stepped up its public advertising campaign, with media advertisement and billboards. The flags and banners with the school’s new logo around, huge posters like those at the PATH Station within Journal Square, and more marketing efforts trying to turn Jersey City into the city known for Saint Peter’s University. “I love the new logo but I don’t understand the unnecessary grandeur of the new Mac Mahon Student Center,” added our anonymous source. “I believe that with all that money we could have managed to fix some of the issues on the campus first then decided on a reasonably sized student center.”
Saint Peter’s has not stopped at just ground-based promotions. One of the ways Saint Peter’s has angled its marketing campaign has been to make the most out of the fact that the university is “one of the most affordable institutions within the area”. This suggestion of “affordability” has been included in the countless advertisements in places like the Journal Square PATH Station and ads on media platforms like iHeartRadio, Pandora, and, as some students have reported seeing, on the MTV network. The funding for this marketing campaign itself comes too from student tuition. (According to St. Peter’s 2010 990 tax form, the school paid more than $800,000 in advertising and marketing.)
Some students also question how affordable the institution is if so many students are taking out loans to begin with.
“I honestly don’t think students are prepared to tackle the debt that is facing them,” added Woods. “It’s like you run up a “credit card” for four years and then, when you have to pay it, you realize your job doesn’t pay you enough to do that.”
They ask, is St. Peter’s truly affordable if many of the students come from families who can barely pay their rent or mortgage?
“I do not know the exact amount of money that I owe from both schools combined, but, for SPC, it is about $90k,” explained Woods concerning her debt. “Once you factor in [Syracuse University, where I got my masters], my debt is upwards of $150k, maybe around $160… I feel depressed… I feel like I’m owned by Sallie Mae. I can’t even tell you how much I’ve been crying since I got home from grad school… I won’t make more than around 25k for the first two years. How am I supposed to survive? I talked to a representative from Sallie Mae the other day and she told me that with my private loans alone, I’ll be paying around $828 a month.”
Despite the claims of affordability, the average new student, from 2009 to 2010, received $20,523 in grants and $6,616 in loans, which equates to $27,139 in total. Such aid still leaves 42% of the total tuition for a dorming student left to be covered during the year. Many students spoken to say that the longer a student is here at Saint Peter’s, the less aid they will receive.
Affordable? Many students simply do not agree, including Danielle Woods, who worries for the newest graduates and hopes to give them some advice.
“You graduate feeling like you are on top of the world and accomplished, then you feel like the biggest failure once you realize how much debt you are in at the tender age of 21,” said Woods, who is trying to learn from her mistakes. “Try to get a job and save money so that you can pay for your loans. Yes, that means you might not be able to participate in every “Thirsty Thursday” celebration, but you will be better off when you start paying off loans. And hopefully you are smarter than me and chose a career path that pays more than enough to place you two cents above the poverty line.”