The Office of Admission at SMSU is busy getting ready for one of its major visit days on Saturday, Jan. 26 - "Experience SMSU Day."
"It's one of our biggest programs of the year," said Erin Eichten, admission counselor. That day also coincides with Hawaiian Night, the annual I'm Sick-and-Tired-of-Winter-and-I'm-Not-Going-to-Take-It-Anymore bash that culminates with a men's and women's basketball doubleheader against Winona State at 5 and 7 p.m.
Experience SMSU Day gets rolling at 1 p.m. with a department and student services fair in the Student Center. This is a good place to visit with faculty members and discover the myriad of services available to students to help ensure their success.
The 19-county service area is where a good percentage of our students come from, and during the course of their high school careers, many students, and their parents, have been on campus and become familiar with the layout, academic offerings, traditions, etc.
For some parents and students, it will be their first time visiting SMSU. As anyone who has gone through the college search process will tell you, it's all about the fit. We're proud of our university, and anyone who has worked here for any length of time will tell you that people go out of their way to help students succeed at SMSU.
As parents contemplate where to send their sons or daughters, a big factor in their decision-making is the bottom line. What's it going to cost?
For the second year in a row, Southwest Minnesota State University tops a Project on Student Debt report, with SMSU students graduating with less debt than any other Minnesota State Colleges and Universities four-year institution.
The study is based on 2011 data, the most recent available. SMSU graduates left with the least amount of average student loan debt, $26,394. Of the five four-year MnSCU institutions that reported data, Winona State was the highest at $31,275, followed by Minnesota State University Mankato, $29,419; St. Cloud State, $28,819; and Bemidji State, $26,930. Minnesota State University Moorhead and Metro State did not report average loan debt numbers.
"SMSU is an institution that tries to provide a cost-effective education for students by maximizing the amount of scholarships that we provide, as well as being as efficient in campus operations as possible," said SMSU President Ron Wood.
Overall, according to the report, Minnesota college graduates have the third-highest loan debt in the nation, an average of $29,793. New Hampshire and Pennsylvania are the two states that have a higher average student loan debt.
Minnesota ranks fifth in terms of the percentage of 2011 graduates who have college loan debt, 71 percent. Nationally, 66 percent, or two-thirds of 2011 graduates, have student loan debt.
Among the privates, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design has the most average loan debt, $43,035, followed by The College of St. Scholastica, $41, 282; Concordia University (Moorhead), $36,757; Concordia College (St. Paul), $35,240 and St. Catherine University, $35,237.
One of the primary purposes of the SMSU Foundation is to raise scholarship dollars. That number has steadily risen each year.
SMSU awarded $2,046,779 in grants and scholarships to deserving students in 2011, helping ease the cost of college, said David Vikander, financial aid director. The average financial aid package for an SMSU student was $10,362. Eighty-seven percent of SMSU students received financial aid, and there was a total of 4,084 scholarships/grants awarded. SMSU awarded $4.2 million in federal grants last year.
State support for public education has waned in recent years. SMSU has done its best to limit the increase in tuition during that time. That's why parents pay such close attention to the bottom line, given these uncertain economic times that include a tougher-than-normal job market for recent graduates and the need for students to pay back those loans upon graduation.
Student visitors on Jan. 26 will be given a free ticket to Hawaiian Night. And while their main focus during the day will likely be possible majors and clubs and organizations they can become involved with, another aspect not to be overlooked is the educational value at SMSU.