Higher ed leaders, students discuss student debt

Katherine Ranzenberger

The average Pennsylvania higher education student is coming out of college with an undergraduate degree, knowledge that can lead to a job and $33,264 in student loan debt.

Kevin Schreiber

Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, is not OK with it. About a dozen students joined with local higher education officials and the politician to discuss the student loan debt crisis on Thursday.

"We believe in degrees and not necessarily debt," Schreiber said. "The national average for student loan debt is $28,950. Pennsylvania is third in the nation for amount of debt. This is an issue with far-reaching consequences."

Awareness: Schreiber, along with the leaders of Penn State York, York College and Harrisburg Area Community College, discussed how to raise awareness of the increasing tuition rates and make sure college is affordable for students in the state.

Students and these leaders have come together to form the Pennsylvania Student Debt Day of Action, a day meant to highlight the expenses of higher education and the increasing interest rates for student loans.

Schreiber's office started the Collegiate Advisory Council in 2013. This year, the students were eager to discuss the issue of student loans because it's a long-standing issue that will affect millennials and the coming generations.

The group is encouraging students and graduates to use the hashtag "#PADegreedNotDebt." They're hoping to create a conversation for reforming student debt in the state and across the nation.

York College of Pennsylvania's Student Senate President Abhi Kudaravalli speaks during State Rep. Kevin Schreiber's Student Debt Day of Action discussion at The Pullo Center in York, Thursday, April 28, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert  photo

Real student story: Abhi Kudaravalli, a 20-year-old senior at York College, is already starting to look ahead to his future debts. The Long Island, New York, transplant wants to go to medical school to study emergency medicine.

His parents have been paying his way through York College, something he said he appreciates. However, with rising tuition rates and the average cost of medical school, Kudaravalli said he knows he'll be joining his fellow students in the loan line.

"If I didn't have my parents' help, I'd be in about $100,000 of debt," he said. "Medical school is just going to add to that."

Technically, Kudaravalli is still a resident of New York, so he would be paying out-of-state tuition rates if he went to Penn State Hershey, the school that has his attention right now. He said he doesn't think that would make much of a difference in the long run, though.

The average four-year cost of medical school with books and fees was $278,455 for private schools and $207,866 for public schools in 2013, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

"I do have to look for schools, and I'm looking here in Pennsylvania and in New York," Kudaravalli said. "Pennsylvania is a little quieter. Either way, I'll have to take out loans."

Chancellor of Penn State York Dr. David Chown speaks during State Rep. Kevin Schreiber's Student Debt Day of Action discussion at The Pullo Center in York, Thursday, April 28, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert  photo

Administration thoughts: David W. Chown, chancellor of Penn State York, said the average amount of debt a student from his university graduates with is higher than the average across the nation. However, he said the administration has tried to combat the rising cost of an education through dwindling state and federal funding availability.

"We've made significant efforts to advise students and make sure they don't have to come back for one extra class they may have missed," Chown said. "That happens at a lot of higher education institutions."

The chancellor said the college even works with students and their families in simple tasks such as filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

"If you fill it out wrong or improperly, you're leaving money on the table," Chown said.

Dominic DelliCarpini, dean for the Center of Community Engagement at York College, said the average debt of York College students is also above the national average. However, he said he believes higher education is vital.

"An investment into higher education is an investment into the future," DelliCarpini said. "We pay close attention to that ability of students to repay those loans. We are preparing those students for careers that don't even exist yet."

— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at