Students at New Jersey colleges carry some of the highest debt burden in the nation, according to data released Thursday.
The average loan debt for students at colleges in New Jersey totaled almost $31,000 per borrower last year, and close to two-thirds of all students had taken out at least one loan to pay for their education, as indicated by LendEDU, a marketplace for student loans and refinancing. That ranked the state’s college students ninth most-indebted in the nation. Connecticut college students held the largest burden, at close to $37,000 per borrower, although a smaller percentage of all students had loans, 59 percent.
In New Jersey, 14 percent of college students hold loans. New Hampshire and South Dakota each had 73 percent of college students in debt. Utah had the lowest rate, with just under four in 10 students using loans to pay for college. Students in Utah also carried the smallest debt burden — an average of less than $19,000 per borrower.
The new data is timely, since two state Senate committees held a hearing Monday on troubling accusations of aggressive and predatory lending by the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. Testimony from students, graduates, and parents prompted two state senators to call for scrapping the agency, though officials said high college costs that force students and their parents to take out loans are a major problem.
“This is a serious national problem,” said Sen. Robert Gordon (D-Bergen) and chair of the Senate Oversight Committee that held the hearing in conjunction with the Senate Higher Education Committee.
LendEDU’s data show wide variations in debt among the state’s colleges.
Princeton University had the smallest percentage of students in debt — 16 percent — and the lowest amount of loans, $8,577 per borrower. The university has the fourth-largest endowment of U.S. colleges and provides students with significant amounts of need-based aid.
Students attending Stevens Institute of Technology, a private college in Hoboken, had the highest debt burden: $48,244 per borrower, with three-quarters of students taking out loans.
According to the data, the U.S. school where students had the most debt was Berklee College of Music in Massachusetts, with an average debt burden of $86,262, though only 10 percent of students graduated with loans. On the other hand, students at Dalton State College in Georgia averaged only $3,000 per borrower, with a third of students in debt.
Nationally, LendEDU said, the Class of 2016 is the most indebted in history. More than 43 million Americans have student debt and the amount of debt held by graduates rose by more than twice the rate of inflation over the past decade.
“Student debt is an important issue,” said LendEDU CEO/Cofounder Nate Matherson. “We hope our report and rankings help students and families make educated decisions when it comes to student debt. And, we hope that our data inspires educators and policymakers to concentrate on this issue.”