La Sierra University issued a response to the US News report, stating its average debt figure should be $42,934. La Sierra cited two major mistakes in its data preparation as the reason its average was reported much higher in the US News report. La Sierra had mistakenly included parent loans when US News had asked them to exclude them. Also, US News asked for only undergraduate debt, and La Sierra had included instances of loans secured by students moving directly into the graduate degree program.
US News and World Report’s website published a report on September 12 indicating that La Sierra University students in 2011 graduated with the highest average debt load of any school in the country, according to 2011 figures. In reviewing student loan data used to develop the university’s US News survey response, La Sierra University uncovered two major mistakes in its data preparation on the debt load question.
The US News survey outlined a very specific set of parameters for universities to use to calculate the average graduating student debt. US News asked universities to exclude parent loans. La Sierra mistakenly included those loans in its calculations.
The university also uncovered a number of instances where loans that 2011 class members had secured to move directly into graduate degree programs were mistakenly included in the undergraduate loan total. US News asked participating institutions to include only undergraduate debt.
La Sierra University should have reported an average debt figure of $42,934 for the 119 La Sierra graduates who fit the US News criteria. This would drop La Sierra out of the US News top ten list of schools with significant debt burdens. La Sierra University’s own figures show that for the 2011 academic year, the average debt for the entire graduating class of 338 students was $29,363.
La Sierra University provides a large amount of institutional grant aid each year to help lower student costs. In 2011, that totaled $12.4 million. This means that, on average, the university covers 30% of tuition costs. In addition, financial aid counselors help students obtain federal and state aid. In 2011, our students received $7.2 million in Pell Grants and Cal Grants. Students received $4.3 million of assistance from sources external to the university, primarily through educational subsidies. Another $378,000 in aid came from scholarships, such as those set up by friends of the university through the Office of Advancement.
“We are deeply committed to helping every student who is admitted to La Sierra University find the resources to reach their educational dreams,” says Randal Wisbey, president. “We know that for many families, this is one of the largest financial investments they will make in their lifetime—and that it pays huge dividends. An important part of La Sierra’s mission is to serve students from economically stressed areas, such as the Inland Empire and across Southern California. We will sustain our efforts to make sure that we keep educational quality high and costs as low as possible for every student.”
La Sierra University is contacting US News and World Report with this additional information, and will work with the publication to correct its report.