July 24, 2013

Debt load affecting Maine students' decisions

Survey: Higher learning is prized as an investment, but parents and scholars often shoulder hefty financial burdens in its pursuit.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Joseph Luka of Portland started college as a pre-med student, but switched to mechanical engineering because the thought of graduating with more than $100,000 in student loans after medical school was too daunting.

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In this July 1 file photo, student Angie Platt, 20, is seen on the University of Iowa campus. Although the recession is over, costs and concerns about job loss and tuition hikes are still driving families' and students' decisions on which colleges to attend and what to major in, according to an annual survey released by loan giant Sallie Mae on Tuesday. Nationally, college spending per student was about $21,000 during 2011-12. (AP Photo/Ryan J. Foley)

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TO READ the full Sallie Mae report, click here.

Luka, who has cobbled together a combination of federal Stafford loans, Pell Grants and savings from summer jobs to pay for college, estimates he'll have to repay about $35,000 in loans when he graduates from the University of Southern Maine.

"It's scary, but I think that without it I wouldn't be able to be in school at all," Luka said of the loans.

Although the recession is over, costs and concerns about job loss and tuition hikes are still driving families' and students' decisions on which colleges to attend and what to major in, according to an annual survey released by loan giant Sallie Mae on Tuesday.

Nationally, grants and scholarships have become the leading source of money for college, and students are relying less on money from their parents and loans, the report said.

Last school year, the average family received grants and scholarships that covered 30 percent of college costs. Parents' income and savings covered 27 percent of the bill and student loans covered 18 percent.

In 2009-10, money from parents was the largest source of a student's college money, at 30 percent of the cost. Since then, parents' total out-of-pocket spending per year per student has dropped by 35 percent, to $5,700 from $8,700, according to the Sallie Mae report. Students were awarded about $6,300 in grants and scholarships in 2011-12.

"Parents are willing to stretch themselves," Ducich told the Associated Press. "It's not that they're not willing to pay. It's that their income is not keeping up."

Parents' enthusiasm for college has not diminished, though. The survey found that 85 percent of parents saw college bills as an investment in their children's future.

Nationally, college spending per student was about $21,000 during 2011-12, down from a peak of $24,000 in 2009-10, according to the Sallie Mae-Ipsos Public Affairs report.

The Ipsos telephone poll was conducted between April 10 and May 9 with 1,802 parents of undergraduate students and 800 18- to 24-year-old undergraduate students. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

According to a separate study by the College Board, the average sticker price at public colleges is now $17,860, including room and board. Students pay, on average, $12,110 per year. At private four-year colleges, the average full tuition price is now just under $40,000, with the average student paying $23,840.

In Maine, 71 percent of students had debt upon graduation in 2011 and the average debt load was $26,046, College InSight found.

By comparison, about two-thirds of the national college class of 2011 had loan debt at graduation, and their debt averaged $26,600, according to the most recent figures from the California-based Institute for College Access and Success. That was an increase of about 5 percent from the year before.

The issue of financing rates for student loans was the subject of debate in the Senate last week, as lawmakers considered a compromise that would offer some students lower rates for the next few years but assign higher rates in the future. A Senate vote is expected this week.

The White House estimates the average undergraduate student would save $1,500 in interest charges if Congress acts to lower Stafford Loan rates for the next few years from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent before leaving town for the August recess, The Associated Press reported.

Watching Congress debate student loan rates has been stressful for Samantha McAvoy of Waterville, who is in the graduate school program for clinical mental health counseling at USM. McAvoy, who has about $5,000 in debt from her undergraduate schooling, expects to accumulate another $25,000 in debt while obtaining her graduate degree.

(Continued on page 2)

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