About half of University students graduate with debt, report says

Jonathan Du

Over half of University of Minnesota bachelor’s degree recipients graduate with debt, according to a report published by University Government and Community Relations last month.

One-third of bachelor’s degree students graduated with an average of $15,952 in debt, according to the report, and nearly one-fourth graduated with an average debt of nearly $35,000.

“We talk to borrowers all the time who have had to sacrifice, either making career choices they wouldn’t have made or settling for jobs they wouldn’t have [because of student debt],” said Cody Hounanian, program director of Student Debt Crisis, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of student borrowers.

Statewide, Minnesota college students have an average of about $31,000 in debt, according to a report analyzing 2016 graduates published last summer by LendEdu, a student debt resource platform. This is about $4,000 higher than the national average.

“Minnesota has always tended to have a higher student debt than other states,” said Megan FitzGibbon, a financial aid specialist at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. “Part of that is because our campuses or colleges have higher tuition than many other states … but we also tend to have higher family incomes, so families may not qualify for those need-based scholarships as much because they have higher incomes so they rely more on student loans.”

In recent years, a smaller proportion of Minnesotan students have taken out loans, and those that do have less debt on average, according to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

“Over the last few years, there [has] been an effort by legislature and government to stabilize tuition, so tuition has stayed flat or increased very little at Minnesota public colleges and universities,” said Sandy Connolly, director of communications for the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

“Underemployment and unemployment are still big issues amongst student loan borrowers,” Hounanian said. “Student debt makes people choose decisions purely financially and that is responsible and good, but borrowers are students, some of our best and brightest and they should be able to pursue the career and interests that got them so far.”