Wartburg student debt highest in state

This year, Wartburg’s graduating class will bear a diploma as well and the highest average student debt in the state. The average debt for graduating Wartburg students this year is $38,844, which is the highest in the college’s conference by about $2,000 and higher than the state’s overall average by almost $10,000 according to the project on student debt. 

Edith Waldstein, vice president for enrollment management, said the highest debt title for the college is something schools in the conference hand off frequently, and that it’s likely Wartburg may not hold the title next year.

“All the schools where there is enrollment overlap, where we’re looking for the same students, are usually within a couple thousand dollars of each other. It’s not uncommon for us to switch places, debt-wise frequently,” Waldstein said.

Waldstein also said that loans, and by extension debt, have been a part of the college experience for many years. With this tradition comes an investment that pays itself back several times over a lifetime, unlike many other types of debt some college graduates may accrue, she said.

“Some people don’t even bat an eye at gathering $30,000 in debt for a car loan, and that’s something that you never see gains from. And I hate to compare a college education to a car, it’s just that the numbers are similar so you can see the parallel. With a college degree, you’re investing in your future and something that will see dividends for the rest of your working life,” Waldstein said.

Wartburg student, Randi Westervelt said she doesn’t think she’s getting enough for her money. She’s transferring to Loras next year.

“The main reason is that I want to go into graphics and animation editing and they don’t have that here,” she said. “If I don’t have exactly what I want, then I feel like I shouldn’t be paying that much money. I’m paying $41,000;  I better be getting exactly what I want and more. I’m not just wasting my money.”

Westervelt said she enjoyed Wartburg and met her best friends here, but it made more sense to go to Loras where she’d be saving a couple thousand dollars.

“I wanted to make it work, but financially, I would be a fool,” she said. “It (money) played a big role; I’m completely on my own. My brother goes here too; I’m a triplet and we’re paying almost a $100,000 between the three of us for college right now.”

In terms of Wartburg’s debt, Waldstein said there’s a number of factors at work that keep the debt numbers high, but overall worth it.

“With a private liberal arts degree, and with Wartburg in particular, the price tag is going to be higher, but Wartburg also has excellent placement rates and typically graduates make much higher salaries than those without bachelor’s degrees from liberal arts colleges,” Waldstein said.

She said Wartburg has a 98 percent placement rate within six months of receiving their diploma and that Wartburg graduates, on average, make about $40,000 a year. Even with the math adding up in students’ favors, Waldstein said that $40,000 in debt is not something to be taken lightly and that every individual student’s situation is going to be different with debt.

“Obviously, we’re looking at the average, and that’s going to skew out some students whose debt is much higher and much lower Waldstein said. “We will talk to families whose debt is much higher than the average to determine whether this is really the best option for them.”


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