PSU launches financial literacy program for students

With the average loan debt of New Hampshire students nearly $25,000 — second highest in the nation — one Granite State university has created a program to help college start off on the right financial foot when they graduate.

Plymouth State University in Plymouth has launched Students Monetary Awareness & Responsibility Today, or $mart, to help students learn to “borrow intelligently,” said June Schlabach, director of financial aid at PSU.

“We were very concerned to hear that New Hampshire’s students graduate with the second highest debt level in the country,” she said. “It’s very easy to accumulate debt. Our sincere concern is that students are mortgaging their future and they’ll suffer with a poor quality of life when they make financial commitments that could stretch out 30 years.”

The program, which began in December, focuses primarily on students who are borrowing more than 50 percent of their tuition by offering one-on-one sessions with a financial aid counselor. A portfolio is prepared containing information on all of the loans the student has, amortization schedules,

tax information and other information. A financial literacy CD produced and donated by New Hampshire financial author and speaker Peter Bielagus and California-based Freeway Guides will also be included in the portfolio.

The counselors will also help to identify any other loans that might be more appropriate for students compared to the current products they have.

“Our hopes are that, in four years, our average student debt is less,” said Schlabach.

In 2006, the average debt of a PSU graduate was $21,700 for in-state residents and $28,000 for non-residents.

The office has identified some 125 students who fit the debt-ratio scenario. All have said they are interested in the program, said Schlabach. Counselors already found two students who might be better served with other loans or could take higher parental gifting levels without impacting loan status.

Schlabach said they will broaden the scope of the $mart program to include sophomores next semester as well as have information sessions at PSU’s residence halls for all interested students.

“Middle-income families are at the highest risk for unmanageable debt,” Schlabach said. “The lower-income families are eligible for gifts and grants that don’t need to be repaid, the higher-income families can better afford the cost of higher education, so it’s the middle class that can accumulate higher debt because there are no programs to help them. That’s where $MART can help. We can assist in finding scholarship money and determine ways to keep the cost of education affordable.”

For more information, call the PSU financial aid office at 603-535-2338 or visit