WASHINGTON – Students at Maryland universities, community colleges and career schools more than doubled the amount of loans they took out from 1993 to 1996 to cover the rising cost of a college education.
Total student borrowing in Maryland rose from $125 million in 1993 to $276 million in 1995-96.
That mirrored a national trend of more students taking out larger loans to cover escalating costs: Student borrowing nationwide rose from $16 billion in 1993 to $33 billion in 1997, according to the Institute for Higher Education Policy.
“Grant support is declining and the net price of college is rising, so what we are seeing is a tremendous surge in borrowing,” said Jamie Merisotis, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy.
The result is more and more students graduating from college with mountains of debt.
“The average college student graduates a little more than $10,000 in debt,” said Merisotis. “Not only is there an increase in average debt but in the percentage of students borrowing, especially with low- income independent students and graduate and professional students.”
Adriene Williams, a junior at the University of Maryland College Park, said the financial burden is forcing students to focus less on their education and more on working to cover costs.
“More students are having to work and that is cutting into our study time,” she said. “I’m supposed to be here focusing on my grades and my education but I have to focus on work to be able to pay for that education, so my grades are suffering.”
Though federal and state aid programs have grown steadily in the last decade, they have been outpaced by the rapid rise of tuition. At the same time, the number of people competing for aid jumped, after Congress broadened eligibility and raised loan limits in 1992.
Other forms of aid, such as grants, scholarships and work-study, have grown minimally over the same period while the number of applicants for that aid has also risen dramatically.
“It looks like there is less aid but it’s really more people vying for the same amount of aid,” said Bill Leith, director of financial aid at the University of Maryland College Park.
Another factor contributing to students’ need to borrow is the fact that parents are paying less towards their children’s education, leaving many students to fend for themselves, Merisotis said. His Institute for Higher Education Policy is a non-profit, non- partisan educational research group.
“Students are bearing a lot more of the burden and that is what is troubling me, the shift in responsibility,” he said. “Parents are actually paying less for their children’s education than they did a decade ago. Students are getting a double whammy.”
John Lippincott, associate vice chancellor at the University System of Maryland, said the system is aware that students are having to take out larger amounts of loans. The system’s 11 colleges are working to develop more financial aid options because of it, he said.
“In 1995, we started a $700 million fund-raising campaign to increase [institutional] scholarships for students and are working for increases in federal, state, institutional and private aid,” he said.
“We are aware that rising costs are causing students to have to secure more loans and we want to work in every way we can to minimize the need for that. We want a Maryland public education to be affordable for everyone without so many kids ending up in debt,” said Lippincott.
In the meantime, Leith said, “We encourage students to develop a financial aid plan to find ways to cover the difference between the award they receive and their actual costs.”