This is a summary of an article that originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Read the full article here.
Oppressive student debt is becoming the norm in Georgia, where students average $27,754 of debt by the time they graduate. Between 2004 and 2014, student debt increased 73 percent.
Nationally, student debt for the same period was not as steep. Georgia’s sharp increase could be due in part to the 2011 changes to the HOPE Scholarships that resulted in far fewer students being covered for full-tuition.
These findings were released by the Project on Student Debt at the Institute for College Access and Success in its annual report. Georgia ranked 24th, with about 61 percent of Georgia students carrying debt.
The report cautioned that the numbers could be even greater due to underreporting of debt. The figures are based on voluntary reporting by college administrators who may not know about all the private loans students have. What’s more, schools with high debt levels don’t have to provide data at all.
Many blame the rise of student debt on increased tuition. Some of Georgia’s largest colleges have increased their tuition by as much as 9 percent. But an April tuition freeze approved by the state’s Board of Regents did not stop the colleges from raising student fees.
Finding a way to keep the HOPE Scholarships fully funded is a key part of any solution to decrease student debt in Georgia. Many other ideas have been suggested, such as increasing the number of scholarships, decreasing loan interest rates and forgiving loan debt.
Whatever the solution, it’s in the best interest of Georgia’s future to ensure affordable higher education.