November 15, 2022
Timothy Caboni, president of Western Kentucky University, spoke at the Rotary Club of Owensboro meeting on Wednesday, advocating for changes in higher education and student loans.
“For higher education, the system doesn’t work,” Caboni said in response to a question about student loan forgiveness. “We need to make sure, overall, that we make sure young people understand what debt is and what it means for their lives.”
President Joe Biden announced Aug. 24 that people with federal student loans would receive up to $10,000 in loan forgiveness, and up to $20,000 for those with pell grants. WKU’s average student debt is $25,000, Caboni said.
“It can be paid for, it’s reasonable,” he said. “The stories you hear about $100,000, $150,000, and $200,000 in student loan debt, which are either caused by predatory institutions that take advantage of people who never graduated, or by people who have a master’s degree or a law degree or an MD, which is a separate issue, but it’s still a problem because we can’t find primary care doctors because who wants to go into debt $250,000 to get a degree?
Caboni said colleges “need to do a better job” and be “clear and upfront” about the cost of a college education.
This is not just a political issue, but also an economic issue for the Commonwealth, Caboni said.
“We need to help people see that higher education is a possibility,” he said.
According to Caboni, only about 40 percent of Kentucky high school graduates attend an institution of higher learning outside of high school, for fear of taking out loans and going into debt.
“We have an obligation as an institution not to bring in people who have no chance of succeeding, shame on us if we do,” he said. “The other is that we have to provide support and interventions along the way.”
WKU has several avenues in place that it says help provide financial support for students.
When Caboni arrived at WKU in the fall of 2017, he said he assessed the undergraduate student population and found the university was admitting about 250 students who had a GPA below 2.0.
“We put them in something called University College, and it wasn’t even on the main campus,” he said. “If you looked at the success rate of these young people, 80% of them had left the following fall. Their average debts were $1,000 and 2% of them never graduated.
Caboni said he asked what the purpose of the program was and was told it was because the university “needs the revenue”.
“I told them never to tell me that again. We are going to help these young people get to a place that can support them in a way that we cannot,” he said.
Students with 2.0 to 2.5 GPA were the next group that was assessed.
“These students can be successful, but they need something more,” Caboni said. “We created something called the summer scholarship program. If you have a 2.0 to 2.49 (GPA), we think you can pass, but you’re going to have to meet us halfway.
The Summer Scholarship Program is a five-week summer transition program for new freshmen. They will move to campus early, complete six hours of college credit, and receive personalized support that will help ensure their success.
“Students who earn Cs in these classes can continue, if they don’t we will help them get to a place that will give them the support they need and they don’t have the same debt, said Caboni.
Another way WKU is tackling student debt is the Opportunity Fund, which started in 2017. The fund focuses on removing barriers to accessing education with a goal of $50 million. dollars.
“If someone’s car breaks down, they have two flat tires, and they need to fix those tires and it’s a choice between $500 to do it or being able to eat, they’re going to eat,” Caboni said. . “It also means they won’t be able to go to school or work to be able to pay their school fees.”
Opportunity funds would be one way the student could apply to receive new tires for their vehicle.