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Friday, December 6, 2013

New Hampshire college debt drops to second highest in the nation; some high-debt colleges refuse to report data

New Hampshire higher education has slipped from the top spot in the one ranking that nobody wants to lead: average amount of student debt. But we haven’t slipped very much.

Average debt load among students at New Hampshire colleges was $32,698 last year, according to a new report. That’s less than the average in Delaware, which saw its debt load jump to $33,649, which means that for the first time since 2009, we don’t have the most debt-laden students in the country – we’re No. 2. ...

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New Hampshire higher education has slipped from the top spot in the one ranking that nobody wants to lead: average amount of student debt. But we haven’t slipped very much.

Average debt load among students at New Hampshire colleges was $32,698 last year, according to a new report. That’s less than the average in Delaware, which saw its debt load jump to $33,649, which means that for the first time since 2009, we don’t have the most debt-laden students in the country – we’re No. 2.

That wasn’t really an improvement, however; New Hampshire students still saw their average debt load rise last year, by about $250.

The data comes in the release of “Student Debt and the Class of 2012” from The Project on Student Debt, a nonprofit initiative that has released annual state-by-state analysis of student debt for several years. You can view it online at project
onstudentdebt.org
.

The report said nationally, college graduates who borrowed for bachelor’s degrees granted in 2012 had an average student loan debt of $29,400 – about 10 percent less than the New Hampshire average.

More than two-thirds of 2012 graduates had some debt load, it reported. In New Hampshire, 74 percent of 2012 graduates had debt, which is also second in the country.

The report says in 2012, unemployment for college graduates remained at historically high levels – 7.7 percent officially, with 18 percent either jobless, working fewer hours than they want, or giving up on looking for a job.

The report has scattered data for individual schools on debt loads and totals, but noted that such reports are voluntary, and that “colleges that receive scrutiny for their voluntarily reported debt levels may be more likely to stop providing such data.”

The Project on Student Debt said 20 percent of the schools on the list of high-debt public colleges in the 2011 report chose not to report in 2012.

“Even for those colleges that do report voluntarily, the college-level debt figures in the report may understate actual borrowing because they don’t include transfer students or any private loans the college is unaware of,” the report said, while urging the collection of better data.

Rivier University did not report student debt-load data for 2012; it last reported it in the 2010 report. Daniel Webster College was not included in the report at all.

UNH in Durham reported average debt load for 2012 graduates of $35,168. UNH Manchester reported a debt average of $25,411, while Keene State reported $33,248 and Plymouth State reported $31,214.

Of private schools that reported, Saint Anselm in Manchester had the highest average: $42,631.

Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, which has drawn national attention for its online programs that it cites as the future of lower-
cost education, did not list its graduates’ average debt in the report.

The topic of undergraduate debt has drawn considerable attention recently, in New Hampshire and nationwide. After Congress’ failure to create a budget led to a short-lived increase in interest rates on new subsidized Stafford loans for undergraduates, the most common type of student loan, public outrage led to the raise being reversed.

In New Hampshire, several years of battles between the state Legislature and the university system, including 2011 cuts that halved state aid for higher education, seem to have quieted down, partly because the Democratic majority elected to the House in 2012 has been less confrontational, and partly because the community college and university systems have frozen tuition for in-state students.

New Hampshire has historically had among the lowest, if not the lowest, levels of state support for public colleges and universities, contributing to student debt loads.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).