Kent State ranks third for student debt

Lydia Coutré

Numbers not far off from other Ohio universities

The Kent State class of 2009 walked away with the third-highest amount of debt among Ohio’s public colleges.

The Project on Student Debt released information highlighting debt levels and trends for students graduating from public and private colleges nationwide.

Although Kent State comes in third, the difference between Kent State graduates’ debt amount and that of other universities is small, said President Lester Lefton.

According to the report, Kent State 2009 graduates accumulated an average of $26,700 of debt and 75 percent of students left the school in the red.

“You’ve got to actually look at the numbers and say there’s not much difference amongst all of the universities,” Lefton said.

Behind Kent State are Miami University ($26,600), University of Cincinnati ($25,900) and Wright State University ($25,400), according to the report.

These are all higher than the national average of $24,000, which is a 6 percent increase from the previous year.

Mark Evans, director of student financial aid, said this is the result of the rising cost of attending college paired with the current economy.

“As we look at trends, federal aid and state aid has not kept pace with the increases,” Evans said. “So that gap between what scholarships and grants are available and the cost unfortunately continues to increase.”

Bowling Green State University is the state leader, with graduates owing an average of $28,600. The University of Toledo comes in second with an average of $27,000.

T. David Garcia, associate vice president for enrollment management, said there are numerous factors that contribute to the student debt, such as the requirement to live on campus for the first two years and the reduction of aid at the federal and state level. He emphasized the importance of looking for outside scholarship opportunities at home.

Evans said that studying abroad and some academic programs, such as flight and aviation, come with “significant additional expenses.” He added that a number of out-of-state students also contributes to that average.

Evans said Kent State has “stepped up to the plate” to find ways to help students.

“I think the university over time has positioned itself to do what it can to control costs and keep tuition down,” Evans said.

The average debt for Ohio is $25,800, which places the state 10th in the nation. However, this total includes private, nonprofit colleges as well.

The data, as reported by schools to Peterson’s Undergraduate Financial Aid and Undergraduate Databases, has shortcomings. Some colleges didn’t complete the survey in full or at all, while others may have understated students’ debt.

“I think that students need to realize that a college education is not a quick return investment,” Garcia said. “It’s a four-year commitment to get that four-year degree that will then open opportunities that they can apply for with that degree.”

Senior Associate Provost Timothy Chandler said the fact that students come to Kent State, even with the slightly higher debt rate, shows that they do realize higher education is an investment.

“I think from our point of view, it’s a wonderful mark of approval by our students that they are willing to invest with us in their future and willing to take on more debt because they know the quality of the education here is going to stand them in very good stead for the future,” Chandler said.

He said it is important to find the balance between cost and quality to be able to reduce the price without jeopardizing the standard of higher education.

“What we want for you is the very, very best education we can provide at the most reasonable cost and we will continue to strive for that,” Chandler said.

Contact Lydia Coutré at [email protected].