As state support shrinks, student debt expands

Ryan Loew

College graduates are leaving their universities with hands on their diplomas, but with their eyes on debt.

And Ohio’s government is playing a big role.

Sixty-six percent of Kent State graduates in 2003 entered the professional world in debt, according to a report by U.S. News and World Report. The average debt accumulated by Kent State graduates that year averaged $19,439.

“I think it’s very widely known that Ohio is a very expensive state as far as education,” said Mark Evans, director of student financial aid. “The state of Ohio is at the bottom tier as far as support for higher education.

“We didn’t get here overnight, and it’s not going away


David Creamer, vice president for administration, said student debt is directly linked to the amount of support the state provides for higher education.

“It’s about how much state support exists,” he said. “Higher tuition relates back to state support. The amount of debt is tied back to tuition.

“Higher tuition means that you have a greater likelihood that you will have to pay through loans. Many families find that the only way they can continue is by borrowing more.”

As state support for higher education in Ohio decreases, tuition increases, Creamer said. And because there is only so much scholarship and grant money to go around, more and more students have to rely on loans, which translates into debt.

“You’re being asked to pick up what the state is no longer paying and the full amount of the increased cost of that education,” Creamer said. “We’ve received less from the state each year than we did the previous year.”

Ohio state schools receive nearly $1,500 less than the U.S. average, according to the Ohio Board of Regents, while tuition in Ohio is almost $2,000 more than the U.S. average.

“We believe that the increasing cost will deter students from pursuing an education,” Creamer said. “And that’s going to lead to a more under-educated state, and its economy will be harmed.”

Ultimately, the state’s budget determines what happens to higher education funding, Creamer said. This year’s budget, which is handed down from Gov. Bob Taft to the Ohio legislature in the coming weeks, is not expected to fare well for state universities.

“The state of Ohio, unlike the federal government, cannot establish a budget that results in a deficit,” Creamer said. “It must have a balanced budget. This means certain programs get cut.”

This includes higher education, he said, while programs such as Medicaid, public schools and prisons remain above the cut-line. Consequently, state universities have been forced to find revenue by increasing tuition and reducing services.

“And the student loses in both ways,” Creamer said. “Because if we make a decision to increase a class size from 20 students to 40 students, the amount of attention a student gets from a professor decreases.”

Contact administration reporter Ryan Loew at [email protected].