Georgia college students’ debt rising

Most students who graduate from a Georgia college these days get their degree, a party perhaps, and a bill detailing how much money they owe in student loans.

The average Georgia student debt is about $27,754, according to an annual report released Tuesday by the Project on Student Debt at the Institute for College Access and Success. Georgia ranked 24th nationally, the report found.

About 61 percent of Georgia students carried some debt, the report said. The report was based on data collected for the 2014-15 school year. Part of the report shows that Georgia student debt rose 73 percent between 2004 and 2014, one of the steeper increases in the nation.

The authors cautioned the numbers may be greater than their findings.

“Our state averages are based on what colleges voluntarily report about their graduates’ combined federal and private loan debt,” said co-author Diane Cheng. “Schools with high debt levels can opt out of providing data, and schools that do report may not know of all the private loans their students have.”

In Georgia, the average debt among colleges surveyed by the group was highest at Clark Atlanta University, $40,815.

» PHOTOS: Which Georgia college graduates carry the most debt?

Rebecca Wilcox graduated from Clark Atlanta this spring and has about $15,000 in student loan debt. Wilcox, who reduced her tuition costs by obtaining scholarships, said college costs are a challenge, particularly since many CAU students come from less-affluent families and are faced with higher interest loans.

Wilcox suggested the federal government decrease loan interest rates and increase opportunities to forgive loan debt, along with urging colleges to put more students on fund-raising committees.

“It’s almost unbearable if you want to get your master’s degree,” Wilcox, a student at Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School, said of student loan debt.

The Savannah College of Art and Design was a close second in Clark, at $40,718. The average debt was $22,087 at the University of Georgia, the state’s flagship university.

Nationally, average student loan debt rose by 4 percent from 2013-14 to 2014-15, to $30,100. New Hampshire had the highest average debt, $36,101, while Utah had the lowest debt, $18,873. Georgia’s average debt was higher than in the neighboring states of Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee but lower than Alabama and South Carolina.

In recent years, tuition has risen by as much as 9 percent at many of Georgia’s largest colleges, sparking widespread complaints and protests. Officials have blamed the rising costs on financial recessions, more expensive technology and an enrollment decline on some campuses. The state’s Board of Regents, which oversees Georgia’s public college and university system, in April approved a tuition freeze. Some schools still increased student fees.

Student loan debt has been an issue in the presidential race.

Republican Party nominee Donald Trump has proposed capping repayment for an affordable portion of the borrower’s income, 12.5 percent. Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton has proposed every student from a family making $85,000 a year or less will be able to go to an in-state, four-year public college or university without paying tuition.

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