Report: State no longer highest for average student loan debt

A graduate and a faculty member greet each other during the processional at the Connecticut College graduation ceremony on the Temple Green on campus in New London on May 21, 2017. Conn College saw the largest percentage decrease in average student debt per borrower among 15 colleges and universities in the state, according to a new report. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
A graduate and a faculty member greet each other during the processional at the Connecticut College graduation ceremony on the Temple Green on campus in New London on May 21, 2017. Conn College saw the largest percentage decrease in average student debt per borrower among 15 colleges and universities in the state, according to a new report. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Between the classes of 2015 and 2016, Connecticut College saw the largest percentage decrease in average student debt per borrower among 15 colleges and universities in the state that reported data, according to a new report from LendEDU.

The New Jersey-based loan marketplace released its second annual Student Loan Debt Rankings report, with data self-reported from 1,161 higher education institutions across the country.

LendEDU listed average student loan debt per borrower for Connecticut College at $34,098 for the Class of 2015 and $27,514 for the Class for 2016, a 19.31 percent decrease.

Last year's report had Connecticut as the state with the highest average student debt, at $36,865. But the Nutmeg State fell to No. 4 this year, with an average debt of $32,326. The three states with higher average debt are Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Delaware.

Nationwide, the report found that the average loan debt decreased from $28,400 for the Class of 2015 to $27,975 for the Class of 2016.

The report, which does not include community colleges, is broken into two rankings: one grouped by state, and one that lists schools across the country.

The other institutions in Connecticut that reported data are Western Connecticut State, Eastern Connecticut State, Southern Connecticut State, Central Connecticut State, Quinnipiac, University of New Haven, Sacred Heart, Albertus Magnus, Fairfield, Trinity, University of Saint Joseph, Wesleyan, University of Bridgeport and Yale. The University of Connecticut did not report data in this year's survey.

The last three are the ones with lower average student debt per borrower than Connecticut College. Yale placed 15 out of 15, with $13,625.

LendEDU acknowledges, in explaining its methodology, "The data was provided on a voluntary basis at the college level by college officials. LendEDU did not audit the accuracy of the college level data. Therefore, the state level data may not be completely accurate."

On the national list, Connecticut College placed 211 out of 250 for lowest average debt per borrower at private four-year colleges and universities. Yale was at 19, University of Bridgeport at 70 and Wesleyan at 89.

Out of the 1,161 institutions reporting data this year, Connecticut College had the 40th-largest decrease in average student debt per borrower. The 39 higher colleges and universities, most of which are religiously affiliated, had decreases between 19.63 percent and 84.02 percent.

Sean Martin, Conn's director of financial aid services, said while he would love to attribute the $6,584 drop in average student loan debt to something specific the school has done, it's more about natural fluctuations from year to year.

He called debt "a little bit of a moving target" that changes from year to year, largely because the number of families that choose to borrow varies and because Conn is a smaller school.

"A change in 10, 15, 20 kids will swing the numbers much more significantly than certainly at a place like UConn, but also at a place like Quinnipiac, another private school that's much bigger than we are," Martin said.

Conn had 433 graduating students in the Class of 2016.

Martin added, "I think it's a combination of factors, between the families and how they choose to finance their education, and then I think it's the counseling piece on our part to make sure that students and families are making informed decisions as to the amount of debt that they take."

Nate Matherson, co-founder of LendEDU, said the element of the report that most surprised him was that average student loan debt per borrower decreased since last year. He likes to think it's partially because people are being more responsible in their borrowing.

"I think student loans has become a more popular topic over the last couple years, with the election, and the media has started to write about student loans more," he said.

Matherson, who said he graduated from the University of Delaware with $55,000 in student loan debt, co-founded LendEDU in 2014 — when he was still in college — to make a more transparent marketplace for student loans.

The company, which now has nine full-time employees, has expanded to the realm of personal loans, credit cards and bank accounts.

e.moser@theday.com

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