The average student graduating from Keene State College will accrue approximately $27,785 in student debt during their time at Keene. This figure is slightly lower than the average debt for an average student in New Hampshire, which stands at $29,443.
Approximately 54 percent of KSC’s student body receives some sort of need based aid, or aid granted to students based on their financial situation.
Need based aid is determined by their answers to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. By the time students from New Hampshire reach graduation, more than 75 percent of students will have debt. This number ranks number five in the country for proportion of students graduating with student debt.
According to Jay Kahn, vice president of finance and planning at Keene State College, data collected from financial aid documents submitted by students show students who apply to Keene as a freshman also apply to other schools in New England.
Most apply to large state schools such as the University of New Hampshire, or the University of Connecticut and smaller private schools such as Suffolk University or Franklin Pierce University.
These large public or smaller private schools generally have a higher price tag. Where Keene is a small public school, the price remains lower than other schools students apply to. Keene is still relatively cheap compared to many other area colleges across New England
According to Kahn, “when you compare our costs [at Keene State College] to these other institutions where students are applying, Keene is really a bargain.”
Higher education costs and student debt levels in New Hampshire are high compared to the rest of the country.
New Hampshire ranks second in the amount of student debt at graduation, $29,443. New Hampshire also ranks fifth for the proportion of students graduating with debt, at 72 percent. These levels of debt continue to increase even as enrollment at New Hampshire’s public colleges continues to rise.
Enrollment in 2008 was the highest in the last decade; this was an increase of 11.6 percent, according to the Postsecondary Education Report put out by the New Hampshire Postsecondary Education Commission.
Despite the rise in enrollment, the rise in tuition and fees at New Hampshire’s public institutions has risen 86 percent over the same time frame.
These raises in tuition and fees make New Hampshire’s public colleges and universities some of the most expensive in the country, lower only than New Jersey and Vermont.
New Hampshire’s high ranking in student debt at graduation is a result of its poor higher education funding. New Hampshire is ranked dead last in higher education funding.
In the last fiscal year, New Hampshire spent only $2.44 per $1,000 of personal income on fiscal support for higher education. New Hampshire would have to increase state funding of higher education by 29 percent in order to reach Colorado, number 49 on the list.
The national average for higher education spending per $1000 is $6.11. New Hampshire would have to increase its higher education funding by more than 150 percent in order to match the national average.
According to Kahn, New Hampshire’s state funding, “places a greater burden on the institution to make up the difference in financial aid for students… At Keene State, students who don’t get financial aid have to carry the burden for other students who are high-need.”
The high cost of higher education is not a problem only found in New Hampshire. It is now a national epidemic.
The cost of higher education has been increasing at a higher rate than inflation and even the cost of medical care.
Since 1970, when corrected for current dollar values, the average cost for tuition and fees at colleges has increased nearly 100 percent; in the same time frame, the median household income has only increased 18 percent.
In response to the drastic increase in tuition and fees, the number of students relying on financial aid has risen.
Students who rely on financial aid have increased 90 percent over the last decade. These students now make up 60 percent of the total. According to Sallie Mae, private loans funding students has increased from 8 percent in 2008 to 13 percent in 2010.
The student debt increases are taking their toll on student finances. According to the Higher Education Policy, 41 percent of all student debt holders are at risk for defaulting or facing delinquency on their student loans within the first two years of starting repayment.
The number of students who actually default, or can’t make the payments they legally agreed to make, on their loans within the first three years of starting repayment has risen from 11.8 percent to 13.8 since 2008.
The total amount of student debt held by Americans is now more than the amount held by credit card debt. It’s nearing $1 trillion.
There seems to be no remedy to the coming student debt crisis. Following graduation, students are facing a tough job outlook. Recent graduates find it difficult to get careers related to their field of study or that pay enough to make loan payments.
Students are continually finding ways to escape the poor job market or to avoid paying back debts right away.
“Students are entering graduate school as a way of avoiding the job market,” said Mary Pleasanton, coordinator of Employee Relations and a career advisor at Keene State College, “These students are like ostriches, digging their heads in the sand, which is a problem.”
Students are entering careers based on the pay and benefits a job might offer versus jobs related to their field of study or their interests.
“Students are choosing jobs differently because of debt; they aren’t taking jobs based on interest, more on the pay,” said Pleasanton.
Graduating senior Jessica Laidley will be about $46,000 in debt at graduation. She was not prepared for the cost of college, “I had a little money saved, but the financial aid department didn’t really help me budget. They never told me when I was expected to pay bills and stuff until they were due.”
Senior Bridget Kline had a different experience, “My parents took care of all the financial aid stuff for me, so I don’t really know how much I have in debt… I expect to pay back through working; I don’t even know what defaulting is, so I’d borrow money if I couldn’t pay.”
Kline’s experience is echoed around the country. High school counselors push the four-year college experience on students and often neglect informing them of the financial burden. Exit counseling on loans following graduation is required for federal loans, but by this time, students have already amassed most of their debt and the rules regarding student loans arrive too late.
Students are rarely informed of the other education options, including community college and trade schools.
Senior Rachael Gobeil is one of the few who was prepared for the cost of college, “I went two years at a community college before coming to KSC, it allowed me to work full time and get college credits. I really think everyone should be doing this.”
By making college more accessible, it has also become more accessible to those who can’t afford it or are not mature enough to handle college.
Instead of pushing students directly through college, critics argue that counselors should be advocating for lower cost alternatives until students are ready for college.
“By making college more accessible, it has become accessible to those who aren’t ready for college. Students are in college who are intellectually unable to handle college and it becomes a waste. If students were matured in the work force or trade school before entering college some of that partying and stuff might go away,” said Pleasanton.
Chelsea Mellin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org