It’s not surprising that Mark Kantrowitz has become the go-to guy for all things related to paying for college.
When he graduated from MIT in 1989, with degrees in mathematics and philosophy, he had more money than he started with, says Kantrowitz. He attributes his good fortune to working during college as a software engineer.
But not everyone can find work that is so lucrative during their college years, no less afterward. The average college student of the class of 2015 graduated owing $35,000, according to Edvisors, a financial aid website that Kantrowitz headed up from 2013 through 2015.
That sounds like a lot of money but, according to Kantrowitz, it isn’t if that college graduate earns more than $35,000 a year. A student’s debt load “should be less than his or her starting salary,” says Kantrowitz, explaining that then it can be repaid in 10 years or less.
He noted that the average starting salary of college graduates is $45,000, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).
Despite the barrage of media stories, “The student loan problem and defaults are mainly among students who don’t finish college,” says Kantrowitz, who has immersed himself in issues about college financial aid for about 30 years. “Dropouts are four times more likely to default on loans than students who graduate.”
Kantrowitz started studying the issue while still a student at MIT. There he compiled a list of scholarships for math and science students like himself, which he updated every year. That led to an offer by Prentice-Hall to write a book on the topic and the “Prentice Hall Guide for Scholarships and Fellowship for Math and Science Students” was published in 1993.
The book, in turn, led to questions from readers via email just as the World Wide Web was taking off. Rather than repeat the questions and their answers, Kantrowitz decided to create his own website and founded FinAid, a comprehensive online guide to educate students and their families about how to pay for college.