Borrowing money for college has become synonymous with attending college itself.
As the rise in tuition continues to outpace the increase in household income, greater numbers of college students are borrowing at higher rates. In a whopping 26 states, at least 90 percent of college students receive financial aid. Even in Washington — the state with the lowest percentage of students receiving aid — 79 percent of students need financial aid.
With more students borrowing money for college, indebtedness has risen, as well. In 39 states, college students graduate with an average of at least $25,000 in debt. While the high cost of attending a private school certainly contributes to rates of student debt, that factor alone cannot account for the significant number of debt-ridden students.
There seems to be another contributing cause for rising student indebtedness: dramatic cuts in state education budgets. As states slash available funds for public universities, tuition becomes more expensive for both in-state and out-of-state students.
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New Hampshire, one of the states with the highest average debt per undergraduate, has cut public university funding by 37 percent per student since 2008. Pennsylvania, which is comparable to New Hampshire in terms of average debt, has similarly cut state university funding by 31 percent per student since the start of the recession. Nine of the public universities with the highest average debt are in located in Pennsylvania, more than in any other state.
Lack of state funding for college education may even prevent some high school students from attending college altogether. In 2010, Oregon ranked 42nd in higher education spending per capita and, in that same year, fell to 47th for high school students entering college. The state spent $167.50 per capita on higher education and saw just 47.8 percent of high school students make their way to college.
For Nevada and Vermont, which also ranked among the bottom ten states in terms of higher education spending per capita, college matriculation rates were similarly about 50 percent. By contrast, in states like Connecticut and Mississippi, which each spent upwards of $300 per capita, college entrance rates climb as high as 78 percent.
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For millions of students across the nation, finishing college with manageable debt is an elusive prospect — but an incredibly important goal. As you undertake your college search, be mindful of what (if anything) you would have to borrow to attend each of the schools you’re considering. And do the math! Figure out what you would need to earn to pay back your loans — and whether a particular school is worth a present and future financial sacrifice.