Photo: Donna Grethen / Tribune Content Agency
The United States finds itself in a $1.67 trillion student loan debt crisis and nowhere is that crisis more apparent than in Connecticut.
According to LendEDU’s 5th annual Student Loan Debt by School by State Report, an analysis of student loan debt data for the Class of 2019 at 475 higher education institutions, the average Connecticut student loan borrower from the Class of 2019 had $41,579 in student debt upon finishing their college education.
For the second consecutive year, Connecticut’s average student debt per borrower figure was the very worst in the country. Only one other state, New Hampshire, had a student loan debt per borrower figure that was above $40,000.
What’s more unsettling is that Connecticut’s figure for the Class of 2019 was a 7.23 percent year-over-year increase from its figure for the Class of 2018. Further, a staggering 80 percent of Connecticut graduates from 2019 left campus with student loan debt.
For reference, the report from LendEDU found the national average student debt per borrower figure to be $29,076 for the Class of 2019, while 55 percent of all U.S. graduates from this class had some amount of debt.
On a school-by-school basis, Connecticut institutions with rather high student loan debt figures included the University of Saint Joseph ($38,916) and Southern Connecticut State University ($42,326).
If there’s good news in Connecticut’s student loan debt crisis, it’s that the situation can only improve at this point.
And strangely enough, the coronavirus pandemic may have created opportunities for The Constitution State to do just that.
When college students around the country were sent home to finish their Spring 2020 semester online in an effort to flatten the curve, a funny thing happened. Some students, who would have never considered attaining an online degree before, grew fond of the virtual experience.
The state of Connecticut should capitalize on this newfound openness to completing a college education entirely online by offering a permanent, state-of-the-art online education program at all of its public colleges and universities.
This would lower student loan debt in the state because tuition for the virtual route would cost far less than that for the traditional in-person higher education experience and thus require fewer student loans.
The justification for dropping tuition for the permanent online option simply being that it offers far less to students compared to the in-person alternative where attendees have access to professors and top-class facilities, in addition to the intrinsic value that comes with learning to be self-sufficient on a college campus.
In tandem with the above, another step Connecticut can take to reduce its student loan debt is partially reimbursing all students at its public colleges and universities for the Spring 2020 semester that became severely overpriced when colleges shut down in March.
Students didn’t get the learning experience they originally paid for and through a partial pandemic reimbursement, Connecticut’s public institutions can do the right thing while simultaneously chipping away at the state’s immense student debt burden.
Another student loan debt strategy the state can implement in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic is creating state-run student loan forgiveness programs for Connecticut’s first responders who graduated from a Connecticut college and remained in the state to work for a minimum of three years after college.
As of right now, Connecticut has a single student loan forgiveness program for teachers so extending their forgiveness policies to include nurses, paramedics, firefighters, and law enforcement officers would be a great way to boost the state’s economy by encouraging employed taxpayers to stay in-state, pay homage to those who answered the call during the pandemic, and also help turn the tide of Connecticut’s student loan debt crisis.
A final option for Connecticut to consider if it’s serious about reducing student loan debt in the state is implementing a student loan debt cap at all of its public colleges and universities. While this proposal doesn’t relate directly to the coronavirus pandemic, it would still boost the financial outlook of so many young adults that have now lived through two recessions.
This would entail creating an upper limit on how much student loan debt any in-state student can take on to attain a bachelor’s degree at a public higher education institution located in the state. Any remaining college costs past that limit are then funded by the institutions themselves.
By capping a college student’s debt load around $50,000, Connecticut’s average debt per borrower figure will come down and the state’s young adults will have more financial flexibility in their post-grad years.
Connecticut has the worst individual crisis within the country’s larger student loan debt crisis, but if the state gets creative with its student loan policies and adjusts to the times we now find ourselves in, it can finally begin the long process of eliminating the financial burden caused by student loan debt.
Michael Brown is the Director of Communications at LendEDU. He can be reached at email@example.com.