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Average student loan debt varies by college, region within the U.S., study suggests

A report by The Project on Student Debt released Wednesday found student debt varies by college and state, and many of the high-debt private colleges, such as Boston University, are concentrated in the Northeast coast.

The Project on Student Debt conducted an annual survey of more than 1,000 public and private colleges, according to the report. Seventy-one percent of students who earned bachelor’s degrees in the U.S. last year graduated with an average of $29,400 in student loans.

According to the report, the amount of debt students graduate with varies by college and state. Students in the East and Midwest borrow much more in loans than those in the West and South.

“State averages for debt at graduation ranged widely in 2012, from $18,000 to $33,650, and graduating seniors’ likelihood of having debt ranged from 41 percent to 78 percent,” the report stated. “In five states, average debt was more than $30,000. High-debt states remain concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest, with low-debt states mainly in the West and South.”

More than 4,000 students received a bachelor’s degree from BU last year, 59 percent of whom graduated with student loan debt, according to the report. With tuition of $56,842, BU seniors with student loans graduated with an average of $36,150 in debt.

Sixty-eight percent of college seniors in the U.S. graduated with an average debt of $23,450, according to the report. Student loan debt has been on the rise in recent years, and many factors have influenced the increasing student debt levels over time.

“Many factors influence student debt levels for each graduating class and the rate of increase over time, such as changes in college costs, family resources, and need-based grant aid,” the report stated.

According to the report, many 2012 graduates faced increasing college costs in a tough economy during their college years. These students faced state budget cuts and sharp tuition increases, which increased their need to borrow.

“On the other hand, available grant aid (federal, state, institutional, and private combined) increased while the Class of 2012 was in college, including a substantial increase to the federal Pell Grant, the largest need-based grant program, in 2009-10,” the report stated. “Borrowing levels almost certainly would have been higher were it not for increased grant aid during this period.”

Curtis Stoychoff, a College of Communication freshman, said many Northeast private schools’ officials feel they can get away with high tuition rates due to their prestige. Although he received some aid from BU, he will still graduate with a good amount of debt.

“It’s not right, because in order to get a good job, you need to go to a good school and get a degree,” Stoychoff said. “But, it’s so expensive to get a degree that you graduate and you’re in so much debt that it’s ridiculous.”

Brian Gallagher, a COM senior, said his debt from BU is substantially higher than his sister’s, who attends University of Delaware. He said since BU students are generally wealthier than students at other schools, they are less likely to graduate with debt.

“There’s probably a smaller percentage of students here that are going to be in a lot of debt than not, just because there’s so many kids that can pay it off right away versus some more middle class private school in Pennsylvania where everyone is kind of on the same social scale,” Gallagher said. “Here, … half the school is extremely loaded and the other half is in debt.”

Nina Misra, a College of Arts and Sciences junior, said based on the reputation of schools in the Northeast, people will do anything they can to attend them, even if they cannot adequately afford it.

“Everybody wants to go to these schools because they’re all such amazing schools,” Misra said. “So people who get in will do anything to get that on their resume that they went to this amazing school. It’s not necessarily worth it, because you could go to another school where you wouldn’t have as much debt and still get a good job, as long as you work hard.”

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