Editorial: Diving off the Hill into a pool of debt

Emily Little/HERALD

Herald Editorial Staff

The issue: Recent data from the U.S. Department of Education says WKU graduates have an extremely hard time paying back their student loans.

Our stance: WKU can’t afford to keep that rate high.

WKU has the fourth highest student loan default rate of large public schools in America, according to qz.com.

It’s easy to look at the data and decide that it isn’t a big problem. The ranking only includes the nation’s biggest schools — plenty of other universities actually have higher rates than WKU. 

But this is WKU’s first year in Conference USA. The freshman class is one of the largest in years. WKU accepts virtually anyone who applies, and our 72 percent retention rate reflects that. All signs suggest that WKU is trying to grow and compete on a bigger scale, so it needs to be compared to bigger schools. 

The schools we’re trying to keep up with are almost all undercutting WKU on graduation rates. The saddest part of the whole thing is who it affects the most. It looks bad for WKU, but more importantly it presents terrifying problems for current students. 

Students are taking out loans under the assumption that WKU is preparing them to get a job. Some of the blame can be pinned on the students, but this problem is worse at WKU than most schools. There’s something wrong with the way the university handles its students’ futures. It’s WKU’s responsibility to ensure that graduates are receiving a competitive education. 

There are two main causes of student loan defaulting. Some students are upwards of $100,000 in debt in order to pursue low-income careers. Others just can’t find a job after graduation. 

Either way, much of the blame falls on WKU, and it’s students who have to worry. 

WKU needs better loan-counseling for incoming freshmen. New students can’t be treated like a paycheck — they need to understand the consequences of borrowing tons of money. 

More importantly, our post-graduate preparation services need work. If students aren’t finding jobs after getting their degree, then WKU is failing at its biggest job, and solving the problem needs to be a priority. 

Of course, if students’ financial nightmares aren’t enough of a motivator for WKU, maybe the massive public relations pitfall accompanying the ranking is. The rankings are being published, and WKU is plainly ranked as the fourth worst. That does not look good to prospective students.  

There isn’t any real data on the employment rates of WKU students, but this ranking indicates that it’s a little behind other schools. Why would anyone come to a school that is known for producing above average numbers of unemployed students?

Hilltoppers who are graduating soon with loads of debt obviously need to be doing everything they can to find jobs. One step toward career success might be taking the Herald’s front page story on the default ranking to WKU’s Center for Career and Professional Development.  

Sometimes, WKU just needs a little reminder about what is most important — its students.