Report: Affordable Higher Education

Student Debt and Consumer Costs in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Area

Released by: U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Higher education in America continues to be critical for both individual success and the economic and political health of our country. While college attendance has grown over the past two decades, state appropriations and federal aid have failed to keep pace with the rising cost of college. As a result, more students than ever must rely on student loans to pay for a four-year degree and start their post-collegiate lives with significant debt.

In fact, student loan debt is rising faster than the cost of living or health care costs. Between 1993 and 2004, the average debt for college graduates with loans increased by 107% to $19,200. At the same time, in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the cost of living increased by 35%, and health care costs (including insurance, drugs and medical care) increased by 58%.

Two-thirds of college graduates in 2004 finished school with student loans. After student loan interest rates increase significantly in July 2006, many borrowers will find it even harder to afford necessities such as health care, rent and groceries because of higher loan payments.

High debt can affect where graduates live, the kind of careers they pursue, when they start a family or purchase a home, and whether they can save for retirement. The combination of high student debt and low earnings can lead to default, ruined credit and wage garnishment.

To reduce student debt and ensure that higher education remains within reach for all Americans, we need to increase need-based grant aid; make loan repayment fair and affordable; protect borrowers from usurious lending practices; and provide incentives for state governments and colleges to control tuition costs.

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