CommonBond, a fintech company that helps students pay for higher education, filled out a bracket this year with an unusual — and illuminating — twist. Taking the 64 teams in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, CommonBond ignored game tallies and instead advanced schools based on how quickly their graduates pay off student debt.
The winner of “March Debtness”? Princeton, whose graduates needed the shortest amount of time to pay off students loans, at an average of 1.34 years.
“One of the things we talk about a lot is, how do we make going to college or grad school more transparent? How do we really help people understand the financial impact of the choices we make?” says Phil DeGisi, chief marketing officer of CommonBond. “That can be really critical when we’re talking about 18- to 22-year-olds who are making choices that will impact their finances for a long time.
“We’re big fans here, and we wanted a fun way to convey the impact these choices can have.”
AN NEW AND FUN WAY TO LOOK AT THE EQUATION
CommonBond offers student loan refinancing, an MBA student loan with a fixed interest rate, and a new product called CommonBond for Business, which allows employers to offer student loan assistance to employees. The company recently launched a $10,000 scholarship, which DeGisi says doesn’t require an essay and is easy to apply for.
The debt-themed March Madness bracket was created, DeGisi says, because CommonBond hoped the visual would help students better understand the burden of debt, and how long it can impact finances.
“We looked at the average student debt at each school and calculated how long it would take them to repay that, depending on what jobs they’re able secure,” DeGisi says. “We thought it was an interesting way to look at the equation — the cost of attendance, and also the income you are able to make as a graduate from that institution.”
CALCULATING THE DATA
Data was gathered from The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) and PayScale. TICAS provided the average debt of graduates in 2016, by school. And CommonBond found the average salaries of graduates via PayScale’s early-career salary report.
“We made some additional assumptions,” DeGisi says. “We basically took these two pieces of data, and we assumed you would pay 10% of your income toward student debt each month, and that the interest rate was 3.76%, which is the undergraduate federal student loan interest rate.”
Following Princeton’s 1.34 years to pay off debt, runners-up were Duke University at 3.32 years, Florida State University-Miami at 4.05 years, and Wichita State University at 4.34 years.
And what school’s graduates take the longest to pay off their debt? North Carolina Central University, at 11.92 years, followed closely by Texas Southern University at 11.90 years.
With the NCAA tournament down to the Sweet 16, CommonBond rearranged its bracket, too. The new winner, out of the remaining schools? UCLA. “Based on our calculations, we’re thinking it will take 4.4 years for UCLA grads to repay their debt, on average. That narrowly edges out Florida and Michigan,” DeGisi says.
UCLA is in ninth place in the overall bracket — and that’s not unusual. DeGisi says many of the schools left in the NCAA tournament are large state schools. “It was maybe a more interesting combination of private and public institutions when there were still 64 teams,” he says. “Princeton was the number-one school, but there was also Duke, Vanderbilt, and UC-Davis.”
At UCLA, he says, the average debt is quite low, and average salaries for graduates are quite high. “So it wasn’t just one metric for any school, it was that combination,” DeGisi says. “We think students — especially if you’re a high school junior or senior — should evaluate their options. You should be thinking about your ability to repay whatever the debt is. We don’t all know what we’re going to be when we grow up, but it’s good to understand the salaries that grads from these institutions are getting. It’s a good indicator of career development and how well-regarded the school is.”