Debt is always at the back of medical student Aliza Patino’s mind.

“I look at it and say, OK I’ve got to work toward paying this off,” said Patino, who plans to graduate from the University of Texas Medical Branch in 2020. “I’ve got to do well in school so I can make that money.”

Patino takes on about $11,000 in debt each year, she said. For herself and some of her friends, debt has even affected career path decisions, she said.

Texas students in four-year institutions graduated with on average $30,516 in debt last year, a trend that could prevent students from taking the next financial steps after college, such as buying a house or a car, according to a spring Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board report.

For medical students, this gap could be even larger. The median education debt for the medical students graduating in 2017 was $192,000, according to a September report from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Accumulated debt could shut graduates out from a mortgage, raise a red flag for future employers or prevent students from sitting for a licensing exam, Galveston College Director of Financial Aid Meghann Nash said.

“It’s very difficult to make students understand the repercussions of the amount of student loans that they’re taking out,” Nash said. “Just because a student is eligible for $10,000 in student loans, doesn’t mean they need $10,000 to go to school and be successful.”

Students need to be more creative in budgeting their living expenses, she said.

In 2017, 60 percent of bachelor degree-earning graduates left school with debt, according to the coordinating board study.

Texas ranks 33rd in the nation in average student debt, according to the Institution for College Access and Success data. The nonprofit estimates Texas’ average debt as $26,824 in 2017. The organization estimates the national average for debt is $28,650.

Some students don’t want to think about it, said Edward Munoz, student government president at College of the Mainland.

“It kind of confuses people,” Munoz said. “It’s a whole bunch of data.”

Munoz also takes classes at the University of Houston. He anticipates working for a few years after finishing classes before applying to law school, he said.

Minimizing student debt takes some creative thinking, said David Gardner, deputy commissioner for academic planning and policy with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

“We still have far too many students who pay for more hours than they need,” Gardner said.

Graduating sooner or starting out at community colleges are options more students should explore, he said. Texas isn’t as bad as other states in terms of debt, but students still need to budget, he said.

He shows students the earning potentials of various career paths and sometimes, these numbers change a student’s mind, he said.

Patino agrees that debt is stressful, saying sometimes it changes a student’s career path.

“Will I make that money or not to pay it back?” Patino said. “Or will I be able to live comfortably while making my payments on the loan?”

Problems can also arise if students forget to account for living costs, said Nick Kilmer, assistant director of the Money Education Center at Texas A&M University. He advises students in both College Station and Galveston.

Jessica Ukwuacha, a student at the medical branch in Galveston, lives with her parents for this reason, she said.

“I’m stressing out about how I’m going to make end’s meet because I’m already tight,” Ukwuacha said. “I’m already behind probably two to three weeks.”

She already has loans from a previous bachelor’s degree at the University of Houston, she said.

Many students shy away from any kind of debt, Kilmer said.

“Debt is definitely bad but in some regards it’s a necessary tool,” Kilmer said.

Munoz knows friends who simply haven’t enrolled in college because of fear of debt, he said.

“I do feel that it is causing them not to finish their education or causing them not to even come to school,” Munoz said.

Munoz has about $3,000 in student debt and has friends with up to $15,000, he said.

“It does bother me and it does worry me,” Munoz said.

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; or on Twitter @HeathKeri.


(6) comments

Alan Waters

A great way to reduce this debt is attend a community college for two years. The cost is around $5,000 with grants available. These courses are transferable to a 4 year college and reduces attendance at that institution to two years for a degree and dramatically reduces the cost of that degree.

George Croix

Jose' Boix

Check this other URL:

George Croix

Interesting. From the 3rd paragraph in that linked article, looks like UTSA tuition goes up 90 bucks for a year and then up another 176 dollars a year after that.....
Jose', I'm not trying to be flip about that amount...I've been pretty darn poor myself and needed every dime counted, but am pretty sure that increase is not the cause of high student loan debt, and for sure the Texas Legislature isn't impacting the expense of going to college in other states. It's a nationwide issue, heavy student loan debt, and getting worse thanks to the feds butting in and removing incentive for colleges to be competitive with tuition and fees, plus, it becomes like credit card use for some - 'easy money' right now and worry about the total later.
Add in a lot of time wasted for many getting a degree that pays squat later or has limited opportunities, and a whole lot of folks would be better off learning a good trade skill from the get go, and avoid racking up big loans they may never pay back.....
It also doesn't help a thing when certain students can have their loans 'forgiven' and others have to pay the full amount back.....that just encourages loading up, then claiming inability to pay back.....

Jose' Boix

While I agree with Mr. Waters plug for the financial benefits of starting at COM, I am confounded by the disproportionate increase in college costs versus salaries and general cost of living. I did a quick proportional cost of our two daughters college costs and my salary, and projected from the 2000s to about now and found the relative amounts to be very disproportional. This rapid change happened when our Legislators eliminated the controls/limits of college tuition. Are colleges really looking for the benefit of the students or their own? You be the judge! Just my thoughts!

George Croix

By my not very rough at all figuring, I put in about 215 grand out of my pocket toward daughters MD and she still ended up with big debt coming out of residency, and about 2/3 of those years were pre-govt. 'improvement' in student loans.....
But, fact is, colleges are businesses....they'll charge what they can to still have people't subsidized loans makes it easier to justify raising costs because the users can get the money easier.
Once a student graduates, the college is mainly concerned, or so it seems, with whether you'll keep up alumni dues or name them in your will....[wink]

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