Center Gives Grads Debt Advice

As tens of thousands of newly-minted college graduates cross commencement stages this month, most will be holding intimidating IOUs in addition to their diplomas.

The average graduate racks up a student loan debt of more than $20,000 by the time he or she graduates, according to Kristy Vienne, director of Sam Houston State University’s new Student Money Management Center.

“The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators reported that 63 percent of all undergraduate students receive a form of financial aid while in school, and, according to a 2005 survey conducted by Nellie Mae, the majority of college students graduated with student loan debt,” Vienne said. “The average student loan debt of students graduating with financial aid loans has doubled during the last eight years to $20,098, a 6 percent increase over previous years.”

This figure doesn’t include credit card debt.

“Seventy-six percent of undergraduates began the 2004 academic year with at least one credit card, with an average balance of $2,327,” Vienne said.

Through the SMMC, Vienne said she has seen too many cases of students who are woefully in hock due to common mistakes such as not evaluating their wants versus their needs; succumbing to peer pressure to spend money they don’t have, be it for dinner or a movie or things like concert tickets or clothes; and addictive spending.

“Just as people become addicted to gambling, alcohol, or the Internet, a person can become addicted to the emotional high of spending,” Vienne said. “If you find that you are having problems with spending and debt—if you feel like you can't control your spending, or how to spend money occupies a lot of your thinking—get help.”

Compounding the problem is the fact that students don’t always have realistic expectations of their potential salary after graduation or the bills that they may have, nor do they set financial goals.

“If you can be honest and live within your means, you'll not only prevent yourself from financial troubles, but you also may find that you've helped others have the courage to make better financial choices for themselves,” Vienne said. “While we all need rewards and treats once in a while, you'll find a lot more joy in paying for what you can afford than stressing about your upcoming credit card bill.”

These kinds of issues are the reason SHSU created the Student Money Management Center. Established last year, the center provides seminars, interactive workshops to tackle such topics as budgeting, retirement planning, credit, identity theft, avoiding credit card debt, determining future earnings and even financial aid.

In addition, the center offers one-on-one confidential counseling for students to not only prevent themselves from getting into financial trouble but helping those who may already be in trouble.

Among the keys to successful money management are developing a budget and make gradual adjustments to your spending until you can get your budget to a level that you are comfortable with.

“In today’s society we never know how to do something in moderation, we either over eat or under eat, we overspend or we put ourselves on a budget and do not buy anything,” Vienne said. “Neither of these situations are realistic to maintain over a long term plan. Therefore, we have to find moderation in our spending and make gradual adjustments until we are comfortable with it.”

For more information on the SMMC or the services it provides, call 936.294.2600, e-mail or visit


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SHSU Media Contacts: Jennifer Gauntt, Bruce Erickson
May 13, 2009
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Writer: Jennifer Gauntt
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