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Student Loan Debt Affecting Local Universities

Posted at: 10/19/2012 6:34 PM
Updated at: 10/19/2012 6:40 PM
By: Brittany Lewis

(ABC 6 News) -- A new study says student loan debt is at its highest amount ever and students in Minnesota are topping that list. $26,000 is the average amount 2011 college graduates owe across the country.

In Minnesota that number is close to $30,000. Numbers that are a concern for students graduating and entering the job market.

"I knew that I would have to work, that's something that I always knew and I knew that I would have to take out loans," said Maddy Hammerlund. She is a senior at UMR and while she didn't want to share the exact amount she will owe after graduation, she says it's significant. "It's overwhelming. It's really scary. It takes your breath away."

She's not alone. UMR doesn't have a graduating class until 2013, but the average University of Minnesota student owes $27,445 when they graduate- a number UMR is working to lower.

"Here in the Rochester campus, we're trying to be really proactive too about helping students reduce that debt. About 84% of the Rochester students receive help from the U of M," said Nathan Tesch of UMR.

Across town, 70% of students at RCTC receive financial aid. After two years, a student's average debt is $7,500, with a little more than 10% defaulting on their loans.

"More and more students are finding that the cost of going to school is what it is. It's gotten more expensive. They may be struggling to find employment or the kind of employment that allows them to pay off the debt," said Dave Weber, Chief Student Affairs and Strategic Operations Officer at RCTC.

The debt for students at Winona State University is among the highest in the state. They owe just over $31,000. However, just 2.5% of those students defaulted on their loans.

And although she'll soon be paying off her debt, Hammerlund feels she's the one being rewarded.

"I'm getting all of this paid back, I'm learning so much, not even just learning so much about health sciences, but I'm learning so much about myself what I want to do, what my goals are, what's important to me," she said.

Financial analyst, G. Mark Williamson of Edward Jones, says students should start saving early for college and once finished they should get on a budget. It's encouraged for students to graduate in 4 years in order to save on additional loans.