State community-tech student default rate high

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than 24 percent of West Virginia's community and technical college students default on their federal student loans, while the default rate for students attending four-year institutions is 11 percent, recent figures from the U.S. Department of Education show.The high default rate among community and technical students is due to several factors, college officials say.Many of these students work full time, are older or have families. Some transfer credits, and debt, from other schools where they tried to earn a degree, said Stephen Benson, vice president for finance and administration at New River Technical College.Some students have transferred to New River from Mountain State University, which lost its accreditation earlier this year and will close at the end of December."We've had students come to us who have attended there . . . they've been attending there for multiple years; they come to us with $30,000 debt and no degree,'' Benson said in published reports.About 83 percent of students who attend West Virginia Northern Community College needed financial aid last year, said Janet Fike, vice president of student services and director of financial aid.Students can lose financial aid if they do not meet certain grade and course standards, said Brian Weingart, senior director of financial aid for the state Higher Education Policy Commission.
The measure is designed to prevent failing students from receiving more federal money. But Fike said students are not able to make payments on debt they have already accrued if they do not graduate and do not have a job.Other students use the financial aid system solely to obtain money."They may attend one class, get their financial aid refund check and never come back,'' Benson said.Many schools now tie attendance to financial aid requirements.Students at West Virginia University at Parkersburg are required to attend class regularly for one month before they receive aid, said Anthony Underwood, dean of students services."We want students to succeed,'' WVU-Parkersburg spokeswoman Katie Wootton said. "If they aren't coming to class, they are less likely to complete their certificate or degree program, which makes it more difficult for them to pay back their student loans.'' 
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