Students going further in the red: MN student debt 5th highest in nation

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With tuition on the rise and many student loan options available, it can be easy for a student to get confused.

Global studies senior Jacob Walls is one such student. He currently has 10 loans, with five different lenders, which can get really confusing.

One thing he was confused about most when applying for loans was if he could defer his loans until after graduation or consolidate them. Each lender has a different guideline.

“Over the years I’ve definitely lost track of what I can do with which loan and so that was confusing,” Walls said.

According to the Project on Student Debt, a nonprofit advocacy group, 72 percent of Minnesota college students graduate with debt and with rising tuition at the University it is expected to rise.

And with graduation quickly approaching, college students across the state are realizing what that debt will be: an average of $23,375.

Deb Pusari, associate director of loans and undergraduate services in the University’s Office of Student Finance, said last year’s graduating students had an average of $24,995 in debt. With tuition rising next year, she said she expects that amount to increase.

Both the University’s and the state’s average debt per student are higher than the national average, which is estimated between $19,000 and $21,000 – giving Minnesota the fifth-highest rate of student debt in the nation, according to the Project on Student Debt.

Pusari said after the admissions office receives the student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid, an award package is offered to the student with the amount and types of loans they are qualified for.

“We encourage students to only take as much loans as they can afford,” she said. “We don’t want them accepting the maximum amount they are offered.”

Art studies junior Kayleigh Menge said she has $16,000 in loans so far, with financial aid from the University and private loans she got elsewhere.

What confused her most, she said, was the number of questions she was asked.

“I’m independent of my parents and so I don’t know why they need all of my parent’s tax information,” Menge said.

Because of a federal formula called Effective Family Contribution, or EFC, the Office of Student Finance needs to know parent’s information to figure out a student’s award package, Pusari said.

“We take the cost of attendance, subtract the family contribution, and the amount remaining is the need,” she said.

Since her family makes too much money to be offered the SELF loan – the only private loan in packages offered by the University – she said she’s not paying interest on any of her loans right now.

“I was paying interest the first year, but now having them deferred,” she said.

The number of subsidized loans – loans that a student doesn’t have to pay interest on while in school – has increased 37 percent from 1996 to 2006, according to The College Board, a nonprofit organization that provides resources for students and information about colleges across the country.

According to the same study, the number of unsubsidized loans – loans that accumulate interest while a student is in school – has increased 158 percent in the same time period.

With the rising tuition and number of loans Menge has acquired in her three years of college, she said she works over the summer instead of taking classes.

“I know I would be able to graduate faster, but with the loans I would have to take out, it wouldn’t be worth it,” she said.

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