A costly reminder of a college degree
The bills are all in now and the average debt for college graduates from the Class of 2012 is nearly $30,000. And, with no end in sight on tuition increases and battles in Washington over student loans and grants, that burden is only going to get harder to bear.
Student debt is the next big issue on the horizon and, as graduates age into the workforce hamstrung in their ability to make any headway, you can bet they will be voting with their wallets. A new poll earlier this week by the Harvard University Institute of Politics finds that 59 percent of those surveyed think student debt is “a major problem” while only 3 percent think it’s no issue at all. Many, though, are blaming the schools themselves for the hefty costs. About 39 percent of those in the poll say colleges and universities are at fault for the high debt while less than 10 percent hold students culpable.
In the meantime, studies such as this one released yesterday from the California-based Institute for College Access & Success are nothing new to college grads and their parents struggling to pay for what is increasingly becoming a minimum job requirement, a college degree.
According to the study, the average 2012 graduate walked off the platform after getting his or her degree with a debt of $29,400, up from $23,450 in 2008. In addition, the number of graduates with debt rose to 71 percent, up from 68 percent four years earlier. The amount of debt and number of students with loans varied by region and college, with the Northeast and Midwest having the highest numbers while the South and West tended to have lower burdens.
Massachusetts, with its high concentration of public and private colleges and universities, doesn’t quite break the top 10 nationally in debt, ranking 12th in average debt of $28,460. But the state comes in 10th in terms of graduates starting post-college life in the hole, with 66 percent in that position. Three other New England states – New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine – ranked 2nd, 5th, and 7th respectively in average debt and all three had higher percentages of graduates with debt than the Bay State.
The amount of debt by a University of Massachusetts graduate varies by campus, from a low of $25,499 at UMass Boston to $32,350 in Dartmouth. At UMass Amherst, 71 percent of students graduated with debt, while the number was 77 percent at UMass Lowell.
UMass President Robert Caret is seeking a $40 million increase in the school system’s budget to maintain the freeze on tuition and fees for in-state students for one more year. Caret’s stated goal is a 50-50 share of tuition and fees between the state and students. In 2008, the state bore 57 percent of the cost of educating students in the UMass system. Four years later, that burden was flipped, with students and their parents bearing 55 percent of the brunt of the bill.
Some of the most prestigious and high-priced schools in the state, such as Harvard, MIT, Amherst College, and Wellesley College, all left students with debt that was less than half the national average. Students at those schools had less debt because the colleges provide extensive student financial aid and in some cases wealthy parents paid the full tab. At Harvard, just 18 percent of the 2012 graduates left with debt.
None of the state’s public schools breaks the top 20 in average debt but four private Massachusetts colleges are in the top 20, with Anna Maria College and Becker College, both in central Massachusetts, ranking first and second, respectively.
Cost now is becoming such a significant factor that students and parents are looking at where they can get the best bang for their buck. With the economy slowly coming out of the recession, trying to find a job that pays both a sustainable wage with enough left over to cover the monthly nut from student loans is a high challenge for recent graduates. Like health insurance, it’s becoming a burden on families young and old.
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