The national two-year cohort default rate rose to 8.8 percent last year, from 7 percent in fiscal 2008, according to the Department of Education, which released the figures Sept. 12. During the same period, Westmont’s default rate decreased from 1.3 percent to .9 percent in 2009.

“While the national default rate is increasing, Westmont students are stepping up to repay their loans — even in a difficult economy,” says Sean Smith, Westmont director of financial aid.

The DOE reports the cohort default rates increased for all sectors — from 6 to 7.2 percent for public institutions and from 4 to 4.6 percent for private institutions.

“Obviously, a good deal of credit goes to our students,” Smith says. “We also have wonderful folks in the financial aid department who counsel students about the responsibilities of taking out education loans. Their work ensures that future students will continue to benefit from these student aid programs.”

Of the 304 Westmont students who graduated in 2009, 210 (69 percent) began making loan payments in 2009. Students who go straight to graduate school don’t begin repaying loans until after they complete their advanced degrees.

Students at institutions in the California State system are being hit from two sides, watching tuition increase up to 32 percent at a time when the economy has stalled, making it more difficult for graduates to find jobs.

“State budget cuts have forced many public colleges and universities to limit enrollment and to significantly reduce course availability, making it difficult for students to enroll in the classes they want and need,” says Silvio Vazquez, Westmont dean of admission. “Westmont will not make any such cuts.”

This semester, Westmont raised tuition, fees, and room and board rates by a total of 3.5 percent. Two years ago, the college froze tuition and all salaries.

According to the DOE, almost one of every 12 recent California college graduates with student loans defaulted within two years of starting repayment — if they ever started making payments at all. About 21,500 former California students scheduled to started loan repayment between Oct. 1, 2008, and Sept. 30, 2009, defaulted by Sept. 30, 2010.

Westmont continues to move up in rankings of colleges and universities. Forbes magazine recognized Westmont in their 2012 America’s Top Colleges list, which includes only 650 institutions nationwide. Westmont ranks 76th, up from 81st last year. Westmont leaped nine spots in the best liberal arts colleges ranked in U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges, 2012 Edition.” Of the nation’s 252 liberal arts colleges in this list, Westmont finished tied for 90th.


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