, Salem, MA


January 3, 2012

Legislature weighs ways to lower student loan costs

BOSTON — With nearly two-thirds of college students in Massachusetts carrying an average debt of $25,541, the commonwealth faces the prospect of even more borrowing by its young citizens and a drop in attendance at its long list of colleges and universities.

"That is one thing we are going to be looking at over hopefully this next year," said Sen. Michael Moore, chairman of the Joint Committee on Higher Education.

Moore's goal is to bring down costs to students to help reduce further debt. But any relief the Statehouse might provide depends largely on Washington. With the continuing gridlock in Congress, the amount of that aid is up in the air.

"We have 117,000 students who receive Pell grants, so the loss of Pell grants is going to necessitate possibly more student loans," Moore said.

According to the Institute for College Access & Success, a nonprofit independent research and policy organization, student loan debt is more than a trillion dollars nationally, with Massachusetts ranking as the 12th-highest state.

Some North Shore officials are well aware of the dangers of students carrying too much loan debt and the possible impact on the state's higher education system.

"We don't know what is going to happen at the federal level in a lot of instances," said state Rep. John Keenan, D-Salem.

With tuition at some private universities topping $50,000 a year, Keenan wonders how middle-class families can afford the debt load and when the rate of tuition inflation might abate.

"Part of our goal is to keep the state university system as affordable as possible," said Keenan, who said he recently met with the House chairman of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, Tom Sannicandro, D-Ashland, and Salem State University President Patricia Meservey at Salem State.

Their talk touched on the cost of higher education, but not on any specific bill to attack the problem. Keenan said he was not aware of a bill specifically designed to reduce the burden of student loan debt.

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