WASHINGTON – The amount of school loans taken out by Maryland college students jumped 50 percent between 1995 and 1998, as grants and scholarships failed to keep pace with rising tuition costs.
The heavier level of borrowing comes at a time when the increase in tuition has also outstripped the increase in incomes, leaving students worried that it will be harder to pay back their loans once they graduate.
In Maryland, average tuition at a public four-year school increased 28 percent from 1995 to 1999. The Census Bureau said per capita income grew 17 percent from 1995 to 1998, the last year for which figures were available, rising from $17,227 to $20,120.
Some Maryland students are worried about their looming debt.
“I don’t know exactly how much I have taken out in loans, but all I know is that it’s a lot,” said Nicole Mendez, a senior communications major at the University of Maryland College Park.
“Since tuition keeps increasing, I keep borrowing more and more,” she said. “I have no idea how I’m going to pay off the loans because I’m sure my starting salary won’t be that high.”
Experts agree with Mendez that recent graduates dedicate a great amount of their salaries to loan payments.
“The debt-income ratio can be quite high,” said Jamie Merisotis, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy. “I’m certainly concerned that tuition has increased more than inflation for a consecutive 18 years now.”
Rising tuition costs are “forcing students to take out more loans because aid is not increasing at the same rate,” said Jamie Pueschel, legislative director for the U.S. Student Association.
But an official with the University System of Maryland said the state is trying to help students, both by capping tuition and boosting aid where possible.
“We are trying to increase institution aid and make sure students are making the most of federal aid,” said Vice Chancellor Joe Vivona.
Vivona acknowledged that tuition has increased faster than inflation, but said that the money is needed for improving such things as technology on the system’s 11 campuses.
“I think in Maryland tuition is moderate and what we have done for three consecutive years now is capped tuition costs,” he said.
But the National Center for Education Statistics said Maryland is above the 1997-98 national average of $3,110 for in-state tuition at a public four- year institution. In 1997-97, Maryland was charging $4,135 to in-state students at public four-year schools. Vermont’s tuition was the highest at $6,492 and Nevada the lowest at $1,884.
Experts said colleges waste a lot of money on amenities that do not improve education, such as sport and art complexes and excessive research. If universities did not compete with each other on such things, tuition would not be so high, they said.
“They’re spending more but not necessarily in ways that increase the value of education,” said Bill Massy, president of the Jackson Hole Higher Education Group and a Stanford University professor.
But experts do not see the situation changing any time soon.
“I think what is coming down the pike is more and more borrowing at higher levels,” Merisotis said.
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