When a borrower calls the Oklahoma Student Loan Authority with a problem repaying a student loan, Customer Service Supervisor Mary Anne Evans and her staff try to find a way to help, whether it means a deferment, forbearance or reduced payments.
“Generally, we try to assess their situation, whether it be unemployment, economic hardship, or it could be that they are going back to school,” Evans said.
However, there's only so much the student loan authority, which services about 150,000 educational loans in the state, can do to help borrowers, said Larry Hollingsworth, vice president of loan management for the authority.
“We don't really have a magic wand — we're not able to make their student loan debt go away,” Hollingsworth said. “It's still a debt that they have incurred, and that they have to repay.”
Data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that Oklahoma has one of the highest student loan default rates in the nation.
Students are borrowing more than they were just a decade ago because of the higher cost of a college degree, Hollingsworth said.
“I do think the amount of loans they take out has increased as tuition costs have increased,” he said. “Students borrow more to help with school costs, so more students are having difficulty than they were five years ago or 10 years ago.”
A report released last month by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that over the past eight years, the amount of total outstanding educational debt in the United States has nearly tripled, swelling to almost $1 trillion.
The number of student loan borrowers and the amount each borrower owes both have increased by 70 percent since 2004, the report found.
Oklahoma had the fifth-highest default rate in the country in 2010 compared with other states and U.S. territories, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Education, released in August 2012. Only Puerto Rico, Arizona, Arkansas and California surpassed Oklahoma in the rate of student loan defaults.