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Maryland ranks second in highest student debt

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The Maryland Center for Collegiate Financial Wellness held a meeting for financial aid administrators.

Maryland residents on average have the second highest student debt burden in the nation, while the majority of financial aid administrators are concerned about their ability to help students navigate a complex system.

The average student loan debt for a Maryland resident is $42,861, just behind Washington D.C., according to the Education Data Initiative, a group of researchers that provide statistics about higher education. About 14% of student loan borrowers owe less than $5,000 for their college degree in Maryland.

The burden on financial aid counselors can be heavy, especially for first-generation college students.

“We are everything to the students,” said Sarah Mariner, director of financial aid at Hood College. “We’re the counselor, we’re the mom, we’re the dad…whatever they need, whenever they come to our office.”

That’s likely because financial aid information might be available but there’s often too much lost in translation.

The Maryland Center for Collegiate Financial Wellness works to provide financial literacy to college-bound and current students so they can understand and make informed financial decisions. The center also collaborates with universities in Maryland to better support the financial needs of students.

Tisa Silver Canady, founder and director of the organization, said that financial aid information might be available on school websites, but can often be hard for students to understand.

“I think that we can't confuse availability with accessibility. Just because the information is there doesn't mean that the student knows where to go to find the information that's relevant to them, or how to translate it, Silver Canday said.

About 66% of financial aid administrators in the eastern region, which includes Maryland, said they were concerned about their ability to adequately serve students, according to a survey by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Nasim Reich, assistant director of Financial Aid at Community College of Baltimore County, said she has been in the field for over 20 years and that the needs of students and the responsibilities of financial aid administrators have significantly changed.

In addition to requirements from the state and federal government, financial aid administrators are often expected to be a resource to students for a range of issues such as experiencing housing or food insecurity, Reich said.

“All of these things affect our end goal, which is to serve the students,'' she said. “And we're not going to be able to do that efficiently if we have all these obstacles and barriers that are stopping us from getting to that end goal.”

Some obstacles for those seeking a career in financial aid is lack of incentives and lower salaries.

That means it’s often difficult to recruit, said Dana Kelly, vice president of professional development and institutional compliance at the national association which represents financial aid administrators.

“Financial aid as a profession needs to find its voice. It needs to find its place at the table in higher education administration, Kelly said.

Zshekinah Collier is WYPR’s 2022-2023 Report for America Corps Member, where she covers Education.
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