Student Debt

Problems piling up in state and nation

NASHUA – In the last decade, New Hampshire saw its total student loan debt nearly double from $3.5 billion to a whopping $6.8 billion, a new study from Experian Consumer Services shows.

Also, 74 percent of students graduating from a college in New Hampshire this year are likely to be burdened with some level of debt, according to the nonprofit Institute for College Access and Success, while the average debt is $34,415.

High student debt in New Hampshire has been an ongoing problem for years. A 2016 New Hampshire Department of Education status report stated, “Despite the powerful, well-documented benefits of higher education and New Hampshire’s great need for a knowledgeable, trained workforce, potential students and their families are deterred by increasingly expensive colleges, universities, and career schools, and rising student debt.”

The Institute for College Access and Success’ 13th annual report on debt at graduation found that new graduates’ likelihood of having debt ranged from 38 percent in Utah to 74 percent in New Hampshire. High-debt states remain concentrated in the Northeast and low-debt states are mainly in the West.

With so much debt, it seems the solution would be to lower college tuition rates, but the solution is not that simple. Ken Ferreira, president of New Hampshire Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said high student debt is a symptom of a much larger issue.

Ferreira referred to an article produced by John Cassidy for The New Yorker, which discussed the U.S. Census Bureau release of its annual report on poverty and income. The report covered 2017.

In the bureau’s report, it also said two researchers, Elise Gould and Julia Wolfe, noted that altogether, from 2000-2017, the median income for non-elderly households fell from $71,577 to $69,628, a decline of $1,949, or 2.7 percent.

“In other words, middle-income Americans have experienced a lost decade,” Cassidy wrote.

As median household income remains stagnant, college tuition in the state has continued to increase. In 2007, tuition and fees to attend the University of New Hampshire was about $11,000 for in-state students and just over $24,000 for out-of-state students.

As of 2019, tuition and fees for in-state University of New Hampshire students -not including room and board -is $18,499, while this cost for out-of-state students is $33,879.

There is no simple fix, however. Ferreira said while the state is fortunate for Gov. Chris Sununu’s commitment to students through the Governor’s Scholar Program and other grants available, at a federal level, Pell Grants need to increase. A Pell Grant is a need-based subsidy provided by the U.S. government to students who qualify.

Currently, the maximum award a student can get from a Pell Grant for the 2018-2019 academic term is $6,095. And that only goes to those who can demonstrate a certain level of financial hardship.

Ferreira said there have also been various proposals in the past years to keep tuition low, but this is not always easy to do. Ferreira pointed out that a majority of New Hampshire schools, Franklin Pierce University included, are tuition-based, meaning tuition covers anything from staff and faculty salaries to electric bills.

While student debt is an inevitable reality many will face, Ferreira said there are some ways to mitigate the burden.

“At the end of the day, what I would hope is students in New Hampshire work with their financial aid office at the schools they attend and seek their help and their advice on ways to curb student debt,” Ferreira said. “Those ways are pretty multiple. Some students who are seniors in high school can take college classes while in school, for free, thus shortening their time enrolled. Some students and families may be able to finance a portion of their educational costs and pay a portion of it over monthly payment plans. Some families may take advantage of sending their sons and daughters off to a community college for the first few years and having them transfer.”

He added, “There’s lots of ways to combat unaffordability issues when facing debt and I would just urge students to work with financial aid offices and work with any of the financial aid professionals throughout the state on adopting those financing tools. In my experience, they really do work.”

Grace Pecci may be contacted at 594-1243, or at