Study: Average student loan debt rose 56 percent in past decade

"Despite rising debt levels, a college degree is still the best path to a job and decent pay," said Debbie Cochrane, report co-author and the Institute for College Access & Success' research director.

By Amy R. Connolly

WASHINGTON, Oct. 27 (UPI) -- The average student loan debt rose 56 percent in the past decade, more than double the rate of inflation, but unemployment among new college graduates remains higher than the national average.

A study by the nonprofit Institute for College Access & Success showed the 2014 unemployment rate for young college graduates was 7.2 percent. While it's a decline from previous years, it's far higher than it was for more than a decade before the recession. It's also markedly higher than the national average of 5.1 percent.


At the same time, seven in 10 who graduated from public or nonprofit colleges in 2014 have student loans with an average balance of $28,950. That's up 2 percent compared to the class of 2013. Of those, about 17 percent was in private loans, which typically cost more and offer fewer consumer protections. Most high-debt states are in the Northeast and Midwest, while low-debt states are concentrated in the West.

Even with that, analysts argue a college degree is still worthwhile. The unemployment rate among high school graduates is 14.7 percent.

"Despite rising debt levels, a college degree is still the best path to a job and decent pay," said Debbie Cochrane, report co-author and the institute's research director. "For students who don't graduate, loans are much harder to repay. Even a small amount of debt can be burdensome if you have limited job options."


The institute's study, "Student Debt and the Class of 2014," made several observations:

-- State averages for debt at graduation in 2014 vary widely, from $18,921 in Utah to $33,808 in Delaware. In six states -- Maine, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Delaware -- average student debt is more than $30,000.

-- Nationally, 2014 graduates were a little more likely to have student debt (69 percent) than their peers in 2004 (65 percent).

-- State funding to public colleges and universities has dropped in the past 10 years, from 62 percent to 51 percent. At the same time, the portion students and families are being asked to pay has risen, from 32 percent to 43 percent.

"After adjusting for inflation, per-student state spending on public colleges decreased 12 percent over the last decade, while the per-student revenue coming from tuition increased 43 percent."

The institute's study is the organization's tenth annual report on debt at graduation. The report overwhelmingly used debt figures from public and nonprofit higher education institutions because for-profit colleges typically do not voluntarily report graduate debt.

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