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Editorial: Pa. colleges have soaring student debt |

Editorial: Pa. colleges have soaring student debt

Keith Srakocic/AP
The Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh campus in Oakland

College isn’t cheap.

Whether you are going for two years or four years or lengthy graduate study, those three words seem universally true. From tuition to fees to dorms to books, there is a lot about college that appears to be targeted less at increasing what’s in your head than decreasing what’s in your wallet.

Or maybe it’s just that this is Pennsylvania.

Everyone focuses on how much the big state-related universities charge. Penn State is frequently tarred with having higher tuition than most public institutions, so much so that state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale went off on a lengthy tirade about it in 2017 when unveiling audit results .

But Pitt is worse, starting at $19,080 base tuition compared to Penn State’s $18,436. And that’s just in-state.

It’s a lot. But if there’s anything worse than
tuition costs, it’s student debt. After all, those price tags could be offset by scholarships or grant money. Harvard has a huge sticker price, but students frequently come from families that can pay or their grades or need net them attractive financial aid packages.

Financial website recently compiled a list of schools with the highest student debt . No, Pitt and Penn State aren’t on it. Neither is Duquesne or Carnegie Mellon or Temple or Penn. But Pennsylvania still had more universities on the list than any other state.

Seven schools — Delaware Valley, Gwynedd Mercy, University of the Sciences, Misericordia, Wilkes and southwestern Pennsylvania’s own Saint Vincent and Washington & Jefferson — were all singled out for high debt burdens, ranging from $46,000 to $54,000.

These are all private colleges. Many on the list are religiously affiliated. Both of those categories do tend to come with higher tuition fees, whether you are talking about grade school or a university.

But Pennsylvania still had more schools on the list than other places with known high tuition. New York had six of the 26 universities singled out, and the four highest debt loads. The New School College of Performing Arts, for example, had an average debt of $77,353. Massachusetts took third place with four schools on the list.

Pennsylvania is full of good schools, public and private, secular and sacred. We teach people amazing skills, and our degrees are coveted by employers and touted by those who hold them. Just ask President Trump where he went to school. Hint: it’s not Harvard.

People graduate and go where the jobs are. Graduate with a lot of debt, and you have to go where your paycheck is going to cover that loan payment and leave you enough to live on. That’s frequently not the Keystone State.

Pitt and Penn State have both tried to address that. Both schools froze tuition this year. Penn State froze tuition in 2015, too, but has also had freezes at a handful of Commonwealth Campuses every year since. Leaders at both schools have noted that addressing ballooning tuition and debt is critical to addressing the needs of students and the state.

We have great schools. We have great students. We just have to make every effort to see the hot air of debt doesn’t float the schools out of students’ reach.

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