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A costly reminder of a college degree

Posted in: *Jack Sullivan   Education
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The bills are all in now and the average debt for college graduates from the Class of 2012 is nearly $30,000. And, with no end in sight on tuition increases and battles in Washington over student loans and grants, that burden is only going to get harder to bear.

Student debt is the next big issue on the horizon and, as graduates age into the workforce hamstrung in their ability to make any headway, you can bet they will be voting with their wallets. A new poll earlier this week by the Harvard University Institute of Politics finds that 59 percent of those surveyed think student debt is “a major problem” while only 3 percent think it’s no issue at all. Many, though, are blaming the schools themselves for the hefty costs. About 39 percent of those in the poll say colleges and universities are at fault for the high debt while less than 10 percent hold students culpable.

 

In the meantime, studies such as this one released yesterday from the California-based Institute for College Access & Success are nothing new to college grads and their parents struggling to pay for what is increasingly becoming a minimum job requirement, a college degree.

According to the study, the average 2012 graduate walked off the platform after getting his or her degree with a debt of $29,400, up from $23,450 in 2008. In addition, the number of graduates with debt rose to 71 percent, up from 68 percent four years earlier. The amount of debt and number of students with loans varied by region and college, with the Northeast and Midwest having the highest numbers while the South and West tended to have lower burdens.

Massachusetts, with its high concentration of public and private colleges and universities, doesn’t quite break the top 10 nationally in debt, ranking 12th in average debt of $28,460. But the state comes in 10th in terms of graduates starting post-college life in the hole, with 66 percent in that position. Three other New England states - New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine - ranked 2nd, 5th, and 7th respectively in average debt and all three had higher percentages of graduates with debt than the Bay State.

The amount of debt by a University of Massachusetts graduate varies by campus, from a low of $25,499 at UMass Boston to $32,350 in Dartmouth. At UMass Amherst, 71 percent of students graduated with debt, while the number was 77 percent at UMass Lowell. 

UMass President Robert Caret is seeking a $40 million increase in the school system’s budget to maintain the freeze on tuition and fees for in-state students for one more year. Caret’s stated goal is a 50-50 share of tuition and fees between the state and students. In 2008, the state bore 57 percent of the cost of educating students in the UMass system. Four years later, that burden was flipped, with students and their parents bearing 55 percent of the brunt of the bill.

Some of the most prestigious and high-priced schools in the state, such as Harvard, MIT, Amherst College, and Wellesley College, all left students with debt that was less than half the national average. Students at those schools had less debt because the colleges provide extensive student financial aid and in some cases wealthy parents paid the full tab. At Harvard, just 18 percent of the 2012 graduates left with debt.

None of the state’s public schools breaks the top 20 in average debt but four private Massachusetts colleges are in the top 20, with Anna Maria College and Becker College, both in central Massachusetts, ranking first and second, respectively.  

Cost now is becoming such a significant factor that students and parents are looking at where they can get the best bang for their buck. With the economy slowly coming out of the recession, trying to find a job that pays both a sustainable wage with enough left over to cover the monthly nut from student loans is a high challenge for recent graduates. Like health insurance, it’s becoming a burden on families young and old.

 

--JACK SULLIVAN

        

BEACON HILL

The Patrick administration approves $1 million for the initial design of a new Lowell Judicial Center, the Sun reports.

Attorney General Martha Coakley asks a federal court to block new federal fish catch limits, calling them an “existential threat” to New England’s fishing industry, the Gloucester Times reports.

Economic triggers are forcing the state income tax rate to drop from 5.25 to 5.2 percent, State House News reports.

CASINOS

Calling it “a funky situation,” state gambling commission chief Steve Crosby says he’ll recuse himself from next week’s consideration of the land deal for a proposed Everett casino because he is a longtime friend and former business partner of one of the principals.

In 721 sharp-shivved words, Joan Vennochi captures the tangled mess she says Gov. Deval Patrick -- the “patron saint of Bay State casinos” -- has created. A Herald editorial endorses the idea of moving a proposed Suffolk Downs casino to Revere, but Boston officials “expect there to be lawsuits, of course.”

Penn National floats the idea of opening a temporary, 500-machine slot parlor in Plainville, should it receive a license to open a $225 million slots hall at the Plainridge Racecourse.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Boston City Council approves a generous arbitration award to Boston police on a 12-0 vote. Council president Steve Murphy declares, “We’re not going to mortgage the city anymore,” suggesting, it seems, that just this one last time is OK. Mayor-elect Marty Walsh, who had gone out of his way to avoid pressing the city council on the contract vote, says layoffs are now on the table.

Mayor Stephen Zanni of Methuen defends the contracts he negotiated with municipal employees and urges the city council to fund them, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Former Weymouth Mayor David Madden is taking his five-year battle to boost his pension to the state Appeals Court after a Superior Court judge ruled his claim that he retired as fire chief was “a sham” because he never returned to work there after leaving the mayor’s office.

An East Bridgewater police officer whose firing was overturned by the state Civil Service Commission has filed suit against the police chief claiming the dismissal was the result of a personal feud between the chief and the officer’s father, the former police chief.

Beverly Mayor-elect Mike Cahill urges the city council not to approve a series of appointments made by outgoing Mayor Bill Scanlon, the Salem News reports.

Mahty says he’ll make Boston more ahty.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

A congressman from Oregon files legislation to increase the federal gas tax by 15 cents over three years to cover a shortfall in the federal highway fund, Governing reports.

ELECTIONS

Sen. Elizabeth Warren promises to serve out the remainder of her term and not run for president, the Associated Press reports. Kimberly Atkins examines the political maneuvering behind Warren’s decision.

CommonWealth examines the two candidates in the race to succeed Ed Markey in Congress -- Katherine Clark and Frank Addivinola.

Sen. Marco Rubio is jumping into an Arkansas Senate race.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell is hoping attention brought by a recent Wall Street Journal story about an old mill building in the city’s South End where investment legend Warren Buffett got his start will spur someone to buy it to keep it from being demolished.

Some Berkshire communities are still waiting for broadband access, but the Berkshire Eagle sees much progress in the past decade.

The federal minimum wage is less than half what it would need to be to keep a family of three out of poverty. The New York Times spotlights efforts to raise fast food workers’ wages to $15 per hour.

Don’t blame the fall of the car on the economy: Austin and Washington, DC, which maintained healthy employment numbers throughout the recession, have also posted some of the largest recent drops in vehicle miles.

The Super Bowl isn’t providing nearly the kind of boost to New York hotels that, say, a big United Nations gathering generates.

Big companies are abandoning suburban office campuses for urban headquarters.

EDUCATION

The state Revenue Department, facing a shortfall of workers due to retirements, builds its own employee pipeline in a partnership with Bunker Hill Community College, CommonWealth reports.

The Lowell School Committee approves a $522 million plan to rehab existing schools and build new ones to accommodate a space crunch, the Sun reports.

TRANSPORTATION

So far, so good: Jet Blue flights out of Worcester’s troubled airport are mostly full.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Rep. John Keenan warns of possible brownouts in 2016 should a new natural gas-fired power plant not get built in Salem. And in a sign of how contentious the fight over the plant is becoming, Keenan suggests the brownouts should be confined to the Marblehead district of Rep. Lori Ehrlich, an opponent of the plant, the Salem News reports.

Many of the nation’s largest companies, including the major oil firms, fully expect to pay a price on carbon in the future, the New York Times reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The mother of a Lunenburg football player who appeared to be the target of racist graffiti by his teammates is now suspected of being involved in the incident, the Telegram & Gazette reports. The school superintendent in Lunenburg defends the decision to cancel the remainder of the football season after the graffiti was discovered, NECN reports.

Federal prosecutors dropped charges in return for community service for two 21-year-old Plymouth men who arranged a prank call with two NFL general managers and then recorded it and sold it to the Deadspin website.

MEDIA

A.H. Belo, the Texas company that owns the Providence Journal, says it has retained a consultant to explore the sale of the newspaper, the ProJo reports. Here is the Globe account of the news.

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