Paying the price of private school: how two students leave SMU debt-free

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By Max Hovenden


Now in his third year at SMU, working his way toward a double major in finance and accounting and serving as a residential advisor for the McElvaney Residential Commons, Cole Dail is a hard working student.

A recipient of both the Second Century Award and the BBA Scholarship, Dail does not pay tuition at SMU.

“It’s such a relief and so nice to think that I won’t have to worry about any student debt when I leave here,” Dail said. “It’s something I know a lot of my friends are going to have to deal with because of their loans.”

While the reminder that he will not be burdened down by debt is a nice thought, Dail does not take the work that he needs to maintain his financial state for granted.

“It can be so stressful to make the 3.5 GPA that is required to keep my scholarships,” Dail said. “Having it really makes me work harder on my work but I think that it can be pretty stringent sometimes.”

$106 billion. That is the amount of money that college students had to borrow for the 2014 school year according to a report by Bloomsburg Business.

With the Federal Reserve reporting student debt now reaching $1 trillion, students are being forced to find new ways to pay the price for their education. Attending SMU, with full tuition at approximately $64,000 annually, is difficult. However, some Mustangs, like Dail, have found some financial relief.

For Dail, his scholarship covers the cost of his tuition and his RA position offers him free housing. But, these aren’t the answers for everyone.

Mitch McKhann, much like Dail, does not have to worry about paying tuition. The only difference between the two is where the money for their education comes from.

“Currently my mother and father pay full tuition at SMU for me,” McKhann said.

According to a study conducted by the Washington Post in 2015, “parents have used more and more of their earnings and savings to pay for college.”

“While I think it’s difficult to say that this is the stereotype at a private school like SMU, I can’t say that I don’t know a good amount of people that are having their parents pay for them,” McKhann said.

Because he is coming out of college debt free, McKhann has an added element of personal responsibility.

“I know that every day I think about how much I owe my parents,” McKhann said. “Not exactly in dollar amount but I know I owe them my best effort. It’s just like I owe it to them to get the best grades possible because they are doing so much so I can have this opportunity.”

According to an article from The Daily Campus, undergraduate tuition at SMU has increased by 87.35 percent in the last 10 years from $34,000 to $64,000. Although the university offers extensive financial aid to students who require it, with as much as 70 percent of the student body receiving some form of aid, the fact remains that the price of college has shot up.

“I remember when I started my first year at Iowa,” high school teacher Ivonne Skrbich said. “I had no financial help and paid $16,000 a year for out of state and even then we all thought that was an insane price for the time.”

In the last 24 years the cost of attendance at her public university alma mater has doubled from $16,000 to $38,000. Skrbich is now 48, married and has two children of her own who are looking to attend college soon.

“As an educator, I feel that college can’t be free but the amount of money some schools are asking for is what amounts to life savings for some families,” Skrbich said. “As a mother, I just want them to have whatever they need and tuition at some schools can make that difficult.”

2016 is an election year and the topic of tuition and student debt has been part of the discussion. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has been running his candidacy on the premiss that tuition at public colleges and universities should be free.

“I don’t know what I would do without a scholarship,” Dail said. “I know my mom couldn’t afford to send me here. I had the grades just not the money. I qualified and I just thank God that I was able to get this incredible education for free.”

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