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Iowa regent universities see decrease last year in average student debt

BY ANNA THEODOSIS | APRIL 24, 2012 6:30 AM

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Student debt at the Iowa Board of Regents' universities has decreased in the last year. However, it has increased on average over the past decade.

According to an April 2011 regents' report on financial aid, the average student debt decreased last year from $26,908 to $26,764. University of Iowa officials said the average debt for the graduating class of 2011 was even lower than regent averages.

"There are so many variables that affect student debt," said Mark Warner, the director of UI Student Financial Aid. "We do what we can to help keep students from borrowing."

Warner said the UI's graduating class of 2011 had an average debt of $25,446, and the graduating class of 2010 had an average of $69 more.

In order to keep student debt down, Warner said, the UI offers students financial aid and consideration for any grants or scholarships the student qualifies for. Students and parents alike should also avoid borrowing money, he said.

"Hopefully, students and parents are making wise decisions and consider borrowing as a last resort," he said. "We reach out to students and parents and say, 'Don't borrow unless you absolutely have to.' "

According to the Project on Student Debt of the American Student Assistance in Boston, students nationwide who graduated in 2010 had an average student loan debt of $25,250. Iowa's average debt in 2010 was $29,598, the second-highest in the nation.

Allesandra Lanza, the director of corporate public relations and American Student Assistance, said she expects student debt to rise nationally in the coming years.

"I think that it will most likely increase depending on what college costs are and what the economy does," she said. "On the immediate horizon, I would expect student loans to either stay at their current volume or increase."

Warner said it is difficult to determine whether the decrease in average student debt at the UI will continue because there are so many variables involved.

"We'll have to see the next three years or five years to see if it's a trend or not," Warner said.

The regents declined to comment on the trend until their meeting Thursday, when they will discuss the report.

At this point, Regent Robert Downer said, officials can only speculate the reasons for the average debt to decline in the past year.

"I think, among other things, we have attempted to keep tuition increases low compared with what has gone on in a lot of other states," he said. "We'll probably hear more about this in the board meeting."

Downer said the regents will discuss addressing student debt at their meeting Thursday following the release of the report.

"I'm sure that there will be discussion of it and action taken to perhaps formulate different strategies and different approaches," he said.


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