"If we want to have a knowledge-based economy, which we must have to be successful, we need to continue to have access to college and not let finance be a barrier," said state Sen.
Lawmakers and student debt officials said a student loan report released last week by the
For instance, extremely high debt levels -- more than
The average debt for undergrads in
Still a struggle
The report acknowledges some borrower hardship due to loans but still finds "little evidence" to support perceived problems in the student loan market.
Some state officials disagree.
Although rising debt loads are caused by several factors -- increased tuition, inflation and policy changes, such as lowered interest rates and longer loan terms -- college graduates still earn more per year on average than high school students in the same age group, the report shows. On average, salary increases over a borrower's lifetime helped offset the increases in borrowing, it states.
In addition, there's no evidence borrowers with high loan-payment-to-income ratios have consistently increased over the years, it said. High ratios were more common during the 1990s than the 2000s, it said.
"If they can refinance to the rates that many current undergraduates are getting at less than 4 percent, that would make a big difference," she said.
Flakoll, who is a member of the state's higher education funding committee, said it's still a problem, especially for the 20 percent of students who take out loans but don't complete college. Without a degree, the earning potential and chances of getting a job are much lower, while health problems tend to rise, he said.
"The longer people are in education, the less they face those types of challenges," he said.
State officials say they want to continue to keep college affordable.
For instance, Flakoll said he has pushed for more timely graduation rates and wants state merit scholarship funding to go directly to the campus on behalf of the student, which will help drive down tuition costs, he said.
State lender Bank of
In the past five years, the number of borrowers receiving loans from BND has grown about 24 percent to 11,407 borrowers in 2013, according to BND.
"(Student debt) is obviously something we think about a lot," he said. "We see people with large student loan debts are still living at home with their parents and obviously delaying the purchase of a home or a car."
On average, UND graduates have been in good shape in terms of debt. The percentage of undergrads receiving at least one loan (excluding any parent-assisted loans) has decreased, as has the loan default rate.
Since 2011, the rate has dropped 1.5 percentage points to 4.5 percent this year, said
"We have a lot of very highly sought-after graduates who get jobs quickly and in the fields that they're looking for," he said.
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