With the latest national statistics on student-loan debt showing that 45 million student borrowers collectively owe more than $1.7 trillion, UNC Charlotte graduates have among the lowest student-loan debt of college graduates in North Carolina and across the nation. In recent years, a multi-layered, institutional commitment to student success and the student experience has worked to improve Charlotte’s on-time graduation rates — and reduce loan debt.
The numbers: Charlotte graduates’ loan debt averages a relatively low $22,000 (exclusive of parent loan debt which brings the average to $28,316), compared to the U.S. average loan debt of $28,950 (Institute of College Access and Success), and the average loan debt of $26,583 for students in North Carolina institutions.
UNC Charlotte received national recognition in 2019 for its student-centered approach that improved its four-year graduation rate by 17% and resulted in a 5% decline in student debt upon graduation.
Factors that contribute to this success include:
- Charlotte’s updated withdrawal policy for undergraduates encourages student success by reducing the number of unsuccessful course attempts and the undesired consequences that such attempts can have on student debt and timely graduation
- Large course redesigns, such as statistics classes, and a campuswide focus on student success result in fewer students earning D’s, F’s or withdrawing from courses, which minimizes the need for students to pay additional tuition to repeat a course
- A proactive advising program identifies students who are at risk and provides interventions to help them be successful
- Enhanced student orientation, learning communities, degree maps, active learning, experiential learning, early alert systems and the 49er Rebound program to get students back on track are major factors
- The Niner Finances Office provides financial literacy programming to students. So far, the office has engaged with more than 3,200 students. The financial literacy program provides workshops, seminars, and individual coaching, and offers support to faculty who wish to incorporate financial planning in their courses
“We have streamlined our academic programs to make it easier for students to progress through their majors in a timely manner. This includes ensuring that there are enough seats available in critical courses,” said Joan F. Lorden, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “We also have improved processes to ensure students have the courses they need when they need them, and we support students so they complete those courses successfully.”
Brad Yeckley, assistant director of Niner Finances Office, said, “Often students have a financial plan that allows them to start college, but they don’t have a financial plan to ensure they can finish college. Students also fail to plan for financial needs upon graduation, such as buying a car or securing housing.
“Many students and recent graduates also struggle to understand their loan repayment or financial aid options. We work with them to help minimize their debt,” he added.
When Maria Garcia ’19 returned to UNC Charlotte to complete a graduate certificate in 2020, she had just started a new job and moved into an apartment. Financially independent for the first time, Yeckley and the Niner Finances Office were there to offer counsel.
“He was really responsive to my goals and helped me break them down into smaller parts, so I could begin making progress without feeling overwhelmed,” Garcia said. Since then, she has established seven new savings accounts for short- and long-term goals and has paid off more than $3,000 in credit card debt.
This campuswide, student-centered approach to student success, financial literacy and timely graduation has allowed Charlotte students like Garcia to move into their postgraduate careers with lower loan debt than graduates from schools across the state and the nation.
Further, Charlotte’s student-loan default rate has dropped to 4.4%, indicating that its alumni are employed and able to make loan payments. This default rate is significantly lower than the national student-loan default rate average of 7.3%, based on data from the U.S. Department of Education.
Charlotte alumni are heading for success, with nearly 70% of graduates in the class of 2020 employed in full-time positions within six months of graduating, with an average salary of $62,532, according to the First Destination survey. Of those not employed full-time, nearly 15% are enrolled in graduate school or other continuing education — a further investment in their future.