OSA organizer Rachael Collyer graduated summa cum laude from Ohio State University this month, but the celebration has been subdued as she contemplates how to repay $28,000 in student loans.
On Wednesday, she wore swimming goggles and arm floaties before a subcommittee of the Ohio Senate to emphasize that she’s drowning in debt and fretting about her future.
“It is incredibly frustrating that despite doing everything I was told I needed to do to be successful, I now find myself in overwhelming debt,” said Collyer, a Cleveland Heights native and representative of the Ohio Student Association.
She was among a dozen students from colleges and universities across the state who urged the Senate Finance Committee’s higher-education subcommittee to boost funding to schools and increase financial aid to students as the legislators work on the upcoming two-year budget.
Subcommittee Chairman Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, said on Wednesday that he expects the Senate to increase state aid to colleges and universities, but details have not been decided.
“Ohio leads the nation in tuition restraint, but clearly more needs to be done,” he said.
Student-loan debt in the U.S. reached $1.2 trillion by the end of 2014. In Ohio, those graduating with bachelor’s degrees from state schools last year averaged about $30,000 in student debt.
“The weight of my accumulated debt weighs on me and leaves me fearful of the future,” said Alli Rigel, a recent Ohio State graduate trying to pay for medical school.
Tobi Akomolede, Senate speaker in the undergraduate student government at the University of Cincinnati, said a provision in the House-passed budget prohibiting tuition hikes in 2017 would help keep college affordable and restrict student debt, but more must be done.
“Increased state funding is crucial to prevent costs from coming back to students in the form of lower-quality education, gutted student-support services, stunted innovation and lack of cost-saving services,” Akomolede said.
Although tuition at Ohio’s four-year universities has decreased by an inflation-adjusted 2.4 percent in the past decade, the state’s annual per-student aid is $2,237 below the U.S. average.
A new report shows that most states, including Ohio, are spending less per student on higher education this school year than they did in 2007-08, the start of the recession.
Ohio has cut spending by 22 percent, according to the analysis released last week by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive research group that analyzes state and federal spending. Overall, all but three states — Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming — have reduced aid to colleges and universities. Of those that cut spending, 31 have done so by more than 20 percent.
The report says less state aid means higher tuition for students and their families, pushing student-loan debt to record highs, surpassing both car loans and credit-card debt. About 60 percent of college students graduate with debt.
The House-passed budget includes 2 percent annual increases in higher-education funding. It also includes $7.5 million to help pay off the college debt of students with in-demand jobs who promise to stay in Ohio for five years.
In addition to providing more state aid to colleges and universities, the Senate might approve increased funding for need-based Ohio College Opportunity Grants, Gardner said. Several students testified that the grants helped them earn degrees without accumulating debt.
Gardner said other moves that would help are getting more high-schoolers to earn college credits through tuition-free early-college programs and renewing efforts to graduate more students in four years.