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Ohio student debt 8 percent higher than U.S. average

By Carol Biliczky
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Student debt edged higher last year to an average of $28,683 in Ohio, about 8 percent above the national average.

Bowling Green State University once again ranked as a “high-debt public college,” and the state ranked seventh in the debt of graduating bachelor’s degree students, according to the Project on Student Debt, compiled by the Institute for College Access and Success.

Statewide, average graduate debt at all Ohio institutions rose 3.5 percent when compared against the previous year — perhaps coincidentally, the same amount public colleges were allowed by law to increase tuition and fees.

“As debt levels rise, fear of loans can prevent students from getting the education they need to succeed,” institute president Lauren Asher said. “Students and parents need to know that, even at similar looking schools, debt levels can be wildly different.”

The seventh annual report uses information voluntarily supplied by 79 tax-supported and private colleges in Ohio and almost 1,000 others nationwide.

Average debt across the country varied from $2,150 to $54,900, and the share of students who graduated with loans ranged from 12 percent to 100 percent.

Colleges with higher costs tended to have higher average debt, the report said, but that wasn’t always true.

For instance, the private College of Wooster reported average debt of $25,163 for 57 percent of its 2011 graduates, while the total cost of attendance was $47,570. Meanwhile, the tax-supported Bowling Green reported an average debt of $33,083 for 80 percent of its graduates. The yearly cost of attendance was $22,307.

So the average Wooster student borrowed less than the average Bowling Green student, even though Bowling Green’s costs were less than half as much.

Bowling Green spokesman David Kielmeyer attributed the high debt to students’ middle-class demographics.“Students make too much to qualify for federal grants and are more reliant on loans to get through college,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kent State University graduates had the second highest level of borrowing among public colleges — $29,842, up 6 percent from the previous year. The University of Akron reported average debt of $22,096 for 70 percent of last year’s graduates, up 16 percent from $19,000 for 61 percent of graduates in 2010.

The report authors called on the federal government to collect key debt information so that students and their parents have complete information.

The report is available online today at www.projectonstudentdebt.org.

Carol Biliczky can be reached at cbiliczky@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3729.