I have been reading a lot on student debt recently, a topic that is of great interest for me as I counsel first-generation college students. My state and institution have among the highest debt rates in the country, not a statistic to celebrate.
Student Debt and the Class of 2009 is the fifth annual report from the Project on Student Debt. It includes cumulative loan debt of students from public and private nonprofit colleges and shows that the debt level of students who graduate with student loans continues to rise with averages from $13,000 to $61,500. Low debt states are typically in the West or Southern states. High student debt rates are concentrated in the Northeast with Iowa, Minnesota, and Alaska in the top tier as exceptions. Iowa is fourth in the nation for average debt of $28,883 and second in percentage of graduates with debt, at 74%.
A variety of factors contribute to varying debt levels including cost of tuition and fees and financial aid policies of the individual institution. Generally, higher tuition is found at private colleges, but some privates, such as Cal Tech and Princeton, are also the first to institute policies of no-loan or reduced-loan for low- and middle-income students. Student debt figures are not inclusive in that not all colleges reported figures for average debt and percent with debt. In actuality, the debt figures could be and are likely much higher.
Several issues influence the accurate collection of student debt data and are recommended for improving the scope this information. These include a lack of a comprehensive annuals source of data, data on private loans, and lack of reporting on repayment terms and debt-to-income ratios for graduates in repayment.
Student Debt and the Class of 2009 reports only federal loan data. When you consider that debt attributed to private and federal student loans has surpassed $884 billion dollars in the United States and contributes to the ballooning national debt, the effectiveness and equity of relying on student loans to finance the cost of a higher education becomes paramount to all. Lawmakers and institution officials must carefully consider the impact of their tuition decisions and educate the student population as to their debt responsibility.