- Associated Press - Thursday, November 13, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Minnesota ranks fifth in the nation for student debt and fourth for its proportion of students grappling with loans, a new Project for Student Debt report found.

Seventy-seven percent of the state’s college students graduated last year with some amount of debt, the Star Tribune (https://strib.mn/1xBeszu ) reported. The large amount of debt is partly caused by the state’s high college participation rate, according to Meredith Fergus, manager of financial aid research at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. A U.S. Census survey from 2012 found Minnesota ranked second in the nation for the percentage of 25- to 44-year-olds who have earned a college degree, she said.

“Historically, Minnesota families have understood the value of a higher education, so there is willingness to borrow for that education,” said Sandy Connolly, director of communications for the state Office of Higher Education.

Although the overall amount of debt is high, there are very low default rates, Connolly said. That shows Minnesota graduates are able to pay back their student loans, she said.

Many low-income high school students don’t apply for college because they are concerned about debt and don’t realize they could be eligible for scholarships and financial aid, according to Brooke Hanson, manager of college program curriculum and design at College Possible, a nonprofit that helps low-income students earn degrees.



“Getting a college degree ultimately is cheaper than deciding not to go to college,” she said. “We know that college graduates stand to earn $1 million more over their working lives than peers without their degrees.”

Some Minnesota legislators are trying to combat the problem with high student debt. Rep. Gene Pelowski helped establish a tuition freeze for undergraduate students within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and the University of Minnesota, and Sen. Al Franken helped introduce a bill that allowed thousands of Minnesota residents to refinance student loans at lower rates.

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Information from: Star Tribune, https://www.startribune.com

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