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Lloyd Omdahl, Published February 05 2012

Omdahl: Tuition drives debt load

At a time when the nation needs to capitalize on the natural talents of all of its young people, skyrocketing tuition and borrowing have become major barriers for young people wishing to get a college degree. Even though a college degree is worth every dime in the long run, the upfront costs are forbidding.

To bridge the gap, more and more students are resorting to borrowing. Nationally, two-thirds of the class of 2010 had debt and owed $22,000 upon graduation. This does not include parental debt.

In North Dakota, over the past 20 years, loan borrowing increased by 540 percent at the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University, 241 percent at other four-year schools and 423 percent at the two-year schools.

Tuition increases lead to student loans and student loans lead to some significant consequences:

But we can’t let any of the negative consequences that may be occurring dampen our interest in getting every qualified high school graduate into a postsecondary school.

The stakes are high for every young person. The national average income for a high school diploma is $28,000; for a college degree, it is $49,000. The unemployment rate for a high school diploma is 11 percent; for a bachelor’s degree it is 5 percent.

Unless the state treasury gets raided by initiated measures, North Dakota could well afford a program similar to the one used in Georgia where promising students are granted free tuition in the state’s institutions of higher learning. This program would guarantee that good students from all income levels would get a chance to pursue a degree.

When it comes to tuition and student loans, North Dakota has been doing better than most states. Even so, we don’t want to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves with sinking ships. We have high school graduates who are intimidated by the price tag. No matter how few they are, a mind is still a terrible thing to waste.

Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@q.com