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Report: Montana College Grads Average $24K in Debt
In 2008, Montana graduates with four-year degrees borrowed $21,125
MISSOULA — Students who graduated from Montana colleges in 2011 and borrowed money to pay for school carried less student debt than the national average, but a higher percentage of students had to borrow money for college, a national study found.

The Project on Student Debt, released by the Institute for College Access and Success in Washington, D.C., found that 65 percent of students graduating with four-year degrees in Montana had to borrow money to pay for school and left with an average student debt of $24,113. The national average was $26,600.

In 2008, Montana graduates with four-year degrees borrowed $21,125.

"As debt levels rise, fear of loans can prevent students from getting the education they need to succeed," Laura Asher, the institute's president, said in a news release. "Students and parents need to know that, even at similar-looking schools, debt levels can be wildly different."

Two-thirds of the 2011 Carroll College graduating class borrowed money and left school owing an average of $29,715, while nearly three-quarters of Montana State University Billings students who graduated in 2011 borrowed an average of $28,447, the Missoulian reported.

Two-thirds of MSU students in Bozeman averaged $25,682 in debt when they graduated in 2011, while 57 percent of their counterparts at the University of Montana owed an average of $20,532.

Eighty-six percent of Rocky Mountain College graduates borrowed an average of $25,623, followed by Montana-Western at $23,629, Montana Tech at $23,000 and MSU-Northern at $20,350. The University of Great Falls did not report its data.

Montana ranked 27th nationally for average student debt load, but 12th nationally in the percentage of students who had to borrow.

Matthew Reed, program director for the institute, said the higher rate of borrowing suggests Montana families have fewer resources to pay for college. He said it also could indicate students are receiving less financial aid from the state, increasing their need to borrow money.

The Institute for College Access and Success does not determine the causes for student borrowing levels.

Tyler Trevor, associate commissioner for planning and analysis with the Montana university system, said the state Board of Regents has made a number of recommendations, including boosting state tuition assistance for low- to middle-income students.

"Nationwide, the states have had some budget difficulties with the recession," Reed said. "When they cut appropriations for college, it often results in tuition increases."
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