As college students across the nation graduate with record-high levels of loans, a recent report found that Connecticut ranks among the five states housing universities with the highest loads of student debt.
Roughly 66 percent of college students from the class of 2011 nationwide graduated with student loan debt, and the average loan debt per person amounted to $26,600, the report concluded. The report — which was released Thursday by The Project on Student Debt, an initiative of The Institute for College Access and Success — asked universities to self-report debt figures from their graduating classes. In Connecticut, the 2011 average was $28,783, making it the fifth-highest debt state behind four other Northeastern states. But the average Yale student graduated with $9,254 in debt — a lower number than those of other private colleges and universities in the state, many of which reported triple that number.
Caesar Storlazzi, director of financial aid, said Yale College has a “no-loan policy for financial aid packages” that allows students to take loans but does not include or require it as part of the aid program. Most students who take loans choose to do so as an alternative to work-study programs, he said, which give students a campus job as part of their financial aid package.
“We see less than one-third of financial aid recipients that will actually take out loans,” he added.
Still, Storlazzi said that the national trend shows an increase in student loan debt because of the effects of the economic downturn, adding that he has heard about several schools that have stopped offering no-loan policies. Storlazzi said he predicts that more schools will tighten their financial aid policies over the next several years.
Pauline Abernathy ’88, vice president of TICAS, said Yale is an unusual case in student debt where “the price is high, but the debt levels are low.” She said measuring student loans by state does not show the full picture, because debt levels often vary in different colleges since schools have different policies determining financial aid packages.
Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Fastweb.com and FinAid.org — two websites dedicated to college financial planning — attributed the state-by-state debt variances to the concentration of high-cost private institutions on the Eastern side of the country, particularly in New England.
“States that have more private non-profit colleges are going to tend to have higher average debt, and public institutions are going to have lower debt,” he said.
Kantrowitz noted that a handful of top high-cost schools like Yale offer generous financial aid programs that reduce student debt to well below the average levels — but he said these schools are not the norm, and do not make a “big dent in the statistic.”
He said he believes that the real numbers of student debt are even higher than the estimated numbers in the report, because more expensive institutions tend not to self-report their figures for debt at graduation. Additionally, the report did not include the debt figures of for-profit colleges, which tend to be generally higher than their non-profit and public peers, he said.
Abernathy said the general growing debt levels are due to a national economic shift that places increasing financial strain on students and families as the cost to attend college increases. Sarah Boocock Beyreis ’85 GRD ’94, director of college counseling at Cincinnati Country Day School in Ohio, said she has seen students give-up “big-name places” for in-state universities because of the potential financial strain.
According to the report, New Hampshire universities had the highest average debt at graduation at $32,450, and universities in Utah had the lowest figure, with an average of $17,250.