College debt burden much too high

Published 11:31 am Thursday, December 4, 2014

A recent report shows Louisiana college students graduate with lower debt loads than many other states, but that gives little solace to recent graduates buried in debt.

Louisiana is also one of the poorest states in the nation and the heavy debt burden on college students is still way too high for this state. College officials, the governor and legislature all need to work harder on finding ways to lessen the debt burden for college students.

The report from the “Project on Student Debt” at The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), also found fewer than half the students graduating from Louisiana colleges and universities in the class of 2013 had student loan debt to pay off — well below the national average of 70 percent.

As tuition continues to creep up under the state Legislature-approved GRAD Act, which allows schools to increase tuition by 10 percent each year if they meet certain benchmarks, the statewide average debt load hit $23,258 for the class of 2013 — up about 25 percent from the $22,789 average for the class of 2012. But it still remained well below the latest national average of $28,400.

State spending on higher education repeatedly has been cut in recent years, and under the GRAD Act, tuition rates have been on a steady incline.

“This means that students and parents are on the hook for making sure they have the money or they borrow the money to fill in that gap,” Louisiana Association of Educators President Debbie Meaux said during a recent media call.

Meaux and other education advocates with General Progress have been drawing attention to the impact increasing loan debts can have on people who go into the often lower-paying teaching profession and what that could mean for education in the state as a whole. Beginning teacher salaries range from $30,000 to $40,000 here, she said.

Meaux said that creates a cycle: New graduates can’t afford to live and repay student loans on teachers’ salaries, so they jump to higher-paying fields or move to other states where teachers are paid more

“Only with comprehensive, reliable data for every college will we see the full picture of student debt,” said TICAS Director Matthew Reed, a co-author of the recent report.

Louisiana officials need to put more emphasis on ameliorating this debt burden on recent graduates, and not just take consolation that it is less than many other states. If we want to keep these talented young people living and working in this state, they need to work harder on the debt problem associated with higher education.(MGNonline)