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'The Wild West': These colleges are putting students into the most debt

Aarthi Swaminathan
Finance Writer

Update 8/15/19: A previous version of this report listed several schools as ranking in the top 15 of student debt, based on the Peterson’s data published by LendEDU, that were then removed from LendEDU’s report “due to discrepancy in reporting.” Consequently, we have updated the story and removed the graphic.

As students continue to take on thousands of dollars in debt to finance their college education, a new study reveals that New England colleges come with the biggest price tags.

The rankings — compiled by LendEdu for the fourth year in a row using the annual Peterson’s financial aid survey — looked at self-reported student loan debt figures from nearly 1,000 four-year U.S. private and public higher education institutions.

With many of the schools setting students back upwards of $50,000 in debt, “it’s really just the Wild West when it comes to these colleges,” Mike Brown, a research analyst at LendEDU, told Yahoo Finance. “They can raise tuition prices, however high they want, there’s no one keeping them in check.”

Student loans are flowing more rapidly into the "severely derogatory" category according to an analysis by the New York Fed. (Source: NY Fed)

The Wild West of college tuition appeared to be in the Northeast, according to the study. The report found that borrowers from Connecticut in particular held the most debt, at $38,776 on average, followed by New Hampshire ($36,754) and Rhode Island ($36,121).

“Generally, everything's just more expensive in the New England, Northeast area,” Brown explained. “The cost of living is more expensive than most other parts of the country ... [and] the cost of living applies to students as well. Student loans are supposed to be used for living expenses, like meals, and room and board and books, and anything else that a student needs.”

The headache graduates face when repaying these loans is evident through some sobering statistics.

A recent New York Fed report stated that outstanding student loans totaled $1.48 trillion as of the second quarter of this year, and student loans have now become a large portion of loans that are turning severely derogatory — at 35%.

People walk around the Princeton University campus in New Jersey in 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)

Ivy Leagues leading by example

There are some bright spots.

Brown noted that it wasn’t the well-known schools that were contributing to the high cost of college. He pointed out that the Ivy League schools performed “exceptionally well” on the student debt issue.

Students attending Princeton, for instance, only borrowed $9,059 in loans. Harvard students borrowed $13,372, and Yale students borrowed $14,575.

At Princeton in particular, Brown explained, “if you demonstrate like an extreme financial need, and saying otherwise I won’t be able to attend the school, Princeton will almost always meet like 100% of your demonstrated financial need, so that you don’t need to take on student loan debt.”

According to Princeton’s website, approximately 60% of undergrads receive financial aid. The average grant for the Class of 2022 was $53,100, and that covered 100% of the students’ tuition. Additionally, for students from families who make less than $65,000 a year, financial aid covers not just tuition, but residential college fee, room and board.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hugs Alexandra Flores-Quilty, 23, of Oregon, who has $50,000 in student debt, during a news conference at the Senate swamp in May 2015. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

‘I don’t have any confidence in anything lawmakers say’

And while presidential candidates propose solutions to the student debt crisis left right and center — ranging from forgiveness to helping students refinance their loans — Brown remains skeptical that political rhetoric would transpire into lasting change.

“Student loan forgiveness — something like that just seems like unrealistic at this point to be able to accomplish,” he said. “It would be great for a lot of student loan borrowers, but I don’t think it will happen.”

He added: “At this point, I don’t have any confidence in anything lawmakers say or do — it just doesn’t seem like they can get anything done.”

Instead, “it’d be great if they could reauthorize the Higher Education Act and try to help hold these schools in check and hold them more accountable for student loan debt levels.”

Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.

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