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Pennsylvania's college grads stuck with second-highest debt load


Pennsylvanians pursuing a higher education shoulder the second-highest amount of student-related debt in the nation, according to a recently released study.

Gloucester City News blog files

The Institute for College Access and Success, a student-focused public policy organization, recently took the wraps off its annual look at student debt across the U.S. at public and nonprofit colleges.

In the report, researchers with the institute concluded Pennsylvania students graduating with a bachelor’s degree at the close of the 2017-18 school year amassed, on average, $37,061 in debt. Only Connecticut outpaced Pennsylvania with average debt in the same metric at $38,669 per student.

Average debt across Pennsylvania increased $207, according to the researchers’ number crunching. At the close of the institute’s last study, encompassing the 2016-17 school year, the average student’s debt load was $36,854.

The national average for student debt within the U.S., covering the same metric, was $28,650 at the close of the 2017-18 school year.

The organization’s report also suggests at least 65 percent of Pennsylvania students graduate with debt linked to tuition and other incidentals incurred while working toward a bachelor’s degree.

This year’s findings within Pennsylvania were derived after looking at data from 129 of the public and nonprofit colleges across the state. Based on the available data, researchers concluded 83 of the institutes, or 79 percent of the total base, had comparable data for the study.

The new report states average student debt could be stabilizing with slower increases from prior years. The average debt for a member of the Class of 2018 was 2 percent higher than the same figure recorded the year prior.

In a statement, Debbie Cochrane, executive vice president with The Institute for College Access and Success, said several factors play into the slower increases, including state and local support at community colleges and public universities.

Nationwide, about three-quarters of all undergraduates attend community colleges and public universities to earn their degrees.

“The growth in student loans has slowed in recent years as states have invested more in public colleges, but millions of students continue to struggle with their debts,” Cochrane said in the statement.

“Colleges, states and the federal government all have an important role to play in reducing the burden of student debt to increase equity in college opportunity,” Cochrane said.

The institute’s report includes a call to action to officials across all states to take further steps in giving students an affordable education.

“This includes allocating available aid on the basis of student financial need, increasing the amount of needs-based aid available to meet students’ cost of attendance and maintaining, or increasing, per-student funding levels to reduce public colleges’ cost of attendance,” researches wrote in the report.

Regionally, a number of other states within the northeast corner of the country also ranked high in the institute’s report. New Hampshire was third, followed by Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware and Washington, D.C.

The lowest-debt states at the close of the 2017-18 school year, according to the study, were Nevada, California, New Mexico, and, at No. 51, Utah, which had average student debt of $19,728.

The institute has an interactive map with state-by-state data gleaned from the 2017-18 school year.