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Yorkers respond: Pa. colleges leave students with third-highest debt

JESSICA SCHLADEBECK
YorkDispatch

After the diplomas are handed out, the caps tossed and the celebrations over, college grads begin an exciting new chapter in their lives that — for students in York and beyond — includes some serious debt.

The state of Pennsylvania ranks third-highest in the country — after New Hampshire and Delaware — for average student debt incurred.

"Give or take a few bucks, students in Pennsylvania on average are looking at about $31,000 in debt," said Keith New, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. "That's an average student with a 4-year degree that borrows money to pay for school, and it's across the board."

That average includes private schools, public schools, "everything across the spectrum," he said.

And 11.6 percent of students in Pennsylvania default on their loans.

Students who attend school in New Hampshire on average face approximately $32,795 in debt and those who attend school in Delaware face $32,371 in debt.

Those who attend school in New Mexico accrue the least debt: $18,656.

York schools: "I either chose the wrong major or the wrong school," joked Annabell Creed, a rising junior at York College of Pennsylvania.

Her starting salary won't cover a year of tuition and living costs, she said.

"My parents have been saving my entire life for me to come to school, both on their own and on my behalf, putting dollars into an account every birthday and holiday since as long as I can remember," she said. "I love it here though, and I think in the end it will be worth the money."

Creed hopes to enter the field of public relations after graduation, which usually has a starting salary between $24,000 and $30,000, she said.

A single year of tuition at York College, excluding any registration fees, according to the school's website, is $16,480. Various fees, a block meal plan and a traditional dorm bring the total to $28,400.

Full-time students at Penn State York will pay $6,506 a semester for their first two years, according to its website. Juniors and seniors pay $7,041. A full year — including fees, residency, a basic meal plan and books — is estimated to cost $26,238.

York College is ranked 83rd-most-expensive and Penn State York as 96th out of the 135 four-year schools in the state, according to a list compiled by collegecalc.com. The numbers are based on the U.S. Department of Education's 2013-2014 Integrated Postsecondary Education Survey and reported costs for the 2013-2014 academic year.

The top three most expensive schools in the state, all private institutions, are Carnegie Mellon University, Haverford University and University of Pennsylvania, all hovering just above the $60,000 mark per year, including all expenses.

The norm: When students crunch the numbers and think about the expense, they don't gasp or cringe, they merely shrug and accept it.

"That's just how it is now, you go to college and you expect debt afterwards," said Bill Raltzbernn, a rising senior at York College. "If you don't get a ton of scholarships, and for some schools even if you do, you're still looking at a figure in the thousands. It stinks, but that's how it goes now."

And while it may seem daunting to some, most still elect to incur the debt for the sake of education.

"You go to school and hope that it pays off," Rising senior at York College, Erin Krench said. "It's an investment in yourself basically. Sometimes (investments) pay off, sometimes they don't."

Krench said it's scary to think of getting an education as a gamble, "but that's what it's starting to become when you look at it from a money perspective."

"But it never occurred to me to not go, and I love being a student here. I graduate next year though, and I think about what I'm going to do afterwards all the time."

Tips: The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency suggests making plans for payment while still in school, thought students might find the six-month grace period allotted to federal student loan borrowers gives most a little breathing room, post graduation.

"Establishing a solid financial plan is one of the most important things a new graduate can do as they enter the workforce," said the agency's board chairman, Rep. William Adolph. "Graduates should do their research and become well informed about their different repayment options — such as income-driven plans — which are individually matched to a borrower's unique financial situation."

The agency also suggested taking advantage of an automatic direct debit plan to make payments, which reduces the number of late payments and can result in a 0.25 percent interest rate reduction.

Reach Jessica Schladebeck at jschladebeck@yorkdispatch.com