With the cost of college degrees on the rise, more students can anticipate the burden of student loan debt, according to College Scorecard data released by the U.S. Department of Education.
"Over the last decade, financial aid has witnessed rapid changes and a decrease in the number of funds available. So, conversely, the reliance on student loans has increased," said Elaine Ruse, director of Financial Aid and Scholarships at Youngstown State University.
"For our institution, the funding reductions in state of Ohio aid programs funded by the Ohio Board of Regents have impacted YSU's affordability the most," Ruse said.
Kent State Trumbull
$11,211 — Average in-state tuition
per year for undergraduates
24.5% — tuition increase
from 2007 to 2009
$16,625 — typical amount a student
borrows in federal loans while enrolled
8.6% — borrowers who defaulted
within three years
Of the 20 million American students attending college each year, nearly 12 million borrow money to cover tuition and other costs, according to statistics posted by American Student Assistance.
Out of the roughly $900 billion in outstanding student loan debt in the United States, the average loan balance per student is $24,000. More than 5 million borrowers have at least one student loan account that is past due.
"Student loans are the biggest racket since college itself," said YSU graduate student Max While, 21, who said he now has stifling debt. "There's way too much. I'm literally planning on faking my own death.''
YSU graduate student Kayla Carucci, 24, said college has become a horrible business.
"It's ridiculous that they expect you to have a college education,'' Carucci said. ''It's so expensive to go to college that it's almost not worth it, because even if you get a good job, you're still working the rest of your life to pay off your debts.''
The College Scorecard study indicates it could be worse. It ranks area colleges anywhere from low cost to high-median cost.
The amount of money families typically borrow in federal loans for a student's undergraduate study is $15,600 for YSU; $15,800 for Trumbull Business College; $16,600 for Kent State Trumbull; $18,500 for The Ohio State University main campus; and $3,500 for Eastern Gateway Community College, according to the study.
Of those schools, Trumbull Business College has the highest tuition at around $21,000 per year, followed by Ohio State at $19,000, Kent State Trumbull at $11,000, YSU at just less than $11,000 and EGCC at $3,000. Tuition was calculated as average net price, which is what undergraduate students pay after grants and scholarships are subtracted from the institution's cost of attendance.
There are various ways a student can pay for the cost of college, from scholarships and grants, or "free money" that never has to be repaid, to student loans, some of which are offered by the federal government in subsidized or unsubsidized forms.
Jim Ritter, director of Enrollment Management and Student Services at Kent State Trumbull, said families should look into grants and scholarships first, using loans only as a last resort.
"One thing students really need to keep in mind is when they're taking out a loan, they need to use the loan only for the essentials," he said. That can include tuition, books and other materials, and some cost-of-living expenditures such as dormitory fees and transportation.
"Sometimes they take out their loan and they use it to buy a car ... some students use it to pay their rent, which is allowable, but they need to keep in mind they have to pay that loan back," he said.
"Student loans are really kind of a last option. If they've got family members or friends that can help them pay for college" then that is ideal, Ritter said.
Despite the increasing cost of college and potentially high accruement of debt as a result, Ruse said a college degree is still a worthwhile investment.
"I still personally believe students with a high school diploma have more difficulty finding a job than those with a college degree. A college degree is truly an investment that improves a student's earnings over time," she said.
On being a local college cited as having one of the lowest tuition costs, EGCC interim vice president Dante Zambrini said, "We are very happy to be one of the most affordable colleges in Ohio. We've done things differently. We have really sought out new revenue sources, grants and other opportunities," he said.
EGCC offers two-year degrees compared with other colleges that may offer four-year degrees, master's and doctorates.
Each of the area schools examined in this report were cited as having recent tuition increases, ranging from 5 to 25 percent, with the exception of Trumbull Business College, which showed a decrease of nearly 12 percent from 2007-09.
YSU student Natalie Fenton, 24, and other students continue to enroll in graduate courses despite being burdened by debt.
"We're fighting for jobs that are under us that we are overqualified for. We feel that by getting a master's, our income level will jump enough that it will offset the cost," she said.