Michigan ranks among top 10 states in college debt

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

The state of Michigan continues to rank among the top 10 states in college indebtedness, according to a national study.

The state's average borrower owes $31,679, compared with $30,978 last year, putting Michigan 41st among the states ranked from low to high debt, the same position as last year. That compares with $19,742 in the state with least average debt per borrower, Utah, and $38,776 in the state with the most average debt per borrower, Connecticut.

Students walk through the Diag in front of the Hatcher Graduate Library on the campus of the University of Michigan campus.

Vermont ($31,432), New York ($31,532), South Dakota ($31,893), Minnesota ($31,911) and Massachusetts ($31,939) all rank near Michigan.

The annual increase of 2.26% in the average student debt loan per borrower in Michigan is the 23rd highest, among the states, comparable to Minnesota and Rhode Island, both at 2.18%.

The annual changes ranged from a decline of 12.6% for Alaska to an increase of 22.54% in Connecticut.

The annual report is compiled by LendEDU, which provides student and personal loans and credit cards.

Of the 1,000 schools surveyed, the University of Michigan ranks 287th, on a low-to-high basis, in average student loan debt per borrower, at $27,224, a 5.55% increase from last year. But Rick Fitzgerald, a UM spokesman, said the university has made progress in lessening the amount Michigan residents have to borrow to attend the Ann Arbor school.

“While 45% of in-state students graduated with student debt loan last year, the average debt amount, $23,255, was actually lower than it was five years ago, $25,575 in 2013,” he said.

That is an increase of 0.4% from $22,408 in 2008, Fitzgerald said.

“The university is committed to helping students make good borrowing decisions that keep their student debt levels manageable,” he said.

“One way we've done that is by simply limiting the amount of loans in financial aid packages. We've made significant progress in loan burden for in-state students over the past decade, particularly when adjusted for inflation.”

Michigan State University ranks 525th among the 1,000, with an average of $32,736 in debt per borrower, a decrease of 1.81%.

However, the average debt of private borrowers increased by 8.61% to $36,847 at Michigan State.

“While this is a true statement, it is important to note that only 10% of the students at Michigan State University borrow private student loans,” said Keith Williams.

“We advise all students and their families to research the best possible options when trying to finance an education at our institution. For some families, the best option may include borrowing a private student loans with term and conditions that work best for their financial situation.

“Many students at MSU also qualify for institutional need-based or merit-based gift aid to help meet their educational costs.”

Wayne State University ranks 336th, with an average debt of $28,004, an annual increase of 0.16%.

The average owed by borrowers to private lenders shot up by 21.51% to $19,497.

 “I think we are hitting our mission of access and affordability for students, said Dawn Medley, associate vice president for enrollment management. “We’ve created some new programs targeting students, helping them pay less out of pocket that we’re been really proud of.”

One new program, Wayne Access, enrolled 1,200 incoming freshmen with no expenses and no loans, Medley said.

And the significant uptick in private debt is due mostly to good shopping, she said.

“We’re having a lot of students choosing to take out private loans because the interest rates on those have fallen,” Medley said.

“I would not see that private loan increase as a negative. I think we’re doing a good job of talking to students and getting them the lowest interest rate.

“The federal interest rates haven’t budged, but the private interest rates have fallen.”

Federal direct loans carry an interest rate of 4.53% for undergraduates and 6.08% for graduate students. By comparison, PNC is advertising undergraduate loans at rates between 4.52% and 11.79%.

At the University of Michigan-Dearborn, the $26,909 average student loan debt per borrower is second lowest in the state (behind Kuyper College at $26,555), at 241st in the country.

School officials said UM-Dearborn students graduate with the second-lowest loan debt of the 15 public universities in the state and that the university has the third-lowest average annual costs.

“We’re pleased this latest survey aligns with what we’re seeing from other organizations when it comes to us keeping the costs low for our students,” said Mitch Sollenberger, interim vice provost for enrollment management.

“We’re looking at almost $2,000 below the average cost in the state.

“I think it’s building a picture that we do care about our students when it comes to their sensitivity to price point,” Sollenberger said.

More than 40% of the students attending the Dearborn campus are eligible for Pell grants, a federal subsidy for students with financial need, named after a former Democratic U.S. senator for Rhode Island, Claiborne Pell.

Debt loads at some prominent schools: Princeton University ($9,059) is ninth, Harvard University ($13,372) is 16th, Yale ($14,575) is 19th and the University of California, Berkeley, ($18,225) is 43rd.

Mike Brown, a research analyst for LendEDU, said that some dramatic annual increases and decreases in the study, now four years old, can be explained by reporting glitches, rather than dramatically increased costs.

“While they could possibly be because of a tuition hike on the part of the school, I tend to believe it is more likely because of a reporting error on the part of the school,” Brown said.

LendEDU takes its data from Peterson’s, a company in Colorado that provides scholastic test preparation, as well as conducting financial aid and scholarship searches.

“We report the data just as we receive it from Peterson's, who reports it directly as they receive it from the schools that fill out the financial aid survey,” he said. “This process leaves room for human error.”

Such a glitch appears to have affected Western Michigan University, where the average student loan debt per borrower increased, according to the report, by 25.45% to $48,755. The school on Thursday disputed the report's figure.

“Our average undergraduate student debt among graduates for the class of ‘18 is in fact $33,864, not $48,755 as reported in the survey,” said Tony Proudfoot, vice president of marketing and strategic communications for Western Michigan.

“So our average actually decreased by 4.9%, instead of increasing 25.45%. The error was caused by an incorrect inclusion of a data set that is not customarily part of the reporting.”