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Cost of college costly for society

Congress has left the building. But luckily, the New Hampshire State Legislature was more willing to at least acknowledge the looming crisis of escalating college debt.

There’s a massive bubble forming in our higher education system, and it is directly impacting the young students in whom we should be investing. Tuitions and fees at colleges across the country are increasing at an unsustainable rate, and the loans students can take out to pay for that cost will most likely come with steeper rates.

New Hampshire’s underfunding of higher education is well-documented. The state ranks dead last in its percentage of funding for higher education, and those coming out with degrees are feeling the burden. According to a national report by the Institute for College Access and Success, students who borrowed for college and earned bachelor’s degrees in 2011 graduated with an average loan debt of $26,600. In New Hampshire, the numbers were much worse. Students graduating from our state’s schools, left owing $32,450.

Two years ago, the state cut its funding for higher education in half, and the result was tuition hikes of 9 percent and 6 percent the following years. With the recent two-year state budget agreement, that money has been restored and the Legislature put in a two-year freeze on tuition. Much like our nation’s debt, that approach may slow down the growth of the problem, but it doesn’t get us any farther from a debt crisis built on student loans.

Another key piece of the escalating costs of college are the loan rates available to students. And Congress this week walked away from the Capitol having failed to stop a key student loan rate from doubling from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent . Congress could take this measure up again in the fall, but hopes can’t be high that Congress will come to an agreement ­— even one that would save college students across the country thousands of dollars. House Democrat Annie Kuster was among those pushing hard to freeze that rate on subsidized federal Stafford loans for college students.

But the divided Congress wouldn’t act to address an issue years in the making.

According to historical trends, tuition has a rate of inflation that hovers between 1.2 to 2.1 times the national rate of inflation. What this means is that students and their families are seeing tuition rates surging far faster than anyone can keep up with.

The Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority measures college tuition across the region, and a quick trip to its online calculator will give you a sobering picture of what it costs to obtain a four-year degree now and in the future. We ran some of the numbers, and they’ll probably make you consider starting that college savings plan.

For the sake of uniformity, we decided to examine what it’d take to send a student to a four-year, in-state public university in New England. We settled on what it’d cost without financial aid and without any contributions. We also chose to make the student a commuter. In short, we were looking for the no-frills, true cost. Of course, this doesn’t include interest costs on the loans needed to finance these payments.

Here’s what we found: A student starting in 2014 could expect to pay just under $100,000 over the course of four years. A student starting in 2020 would pay more than $132,000. Things really start to balloon for those kids just starting out their lives. A student entering college in 2030 would expect to fork over $216,000 by the time they walked across the stage at graduation. Just for kicks, we also looked at what a student would expect to pay in true cost at a private university in New England if they started in 2030. That check would be about $20,000 short of a half-million.

At what point is college no longer worth the cost? For all too many, that day is coming sooner than we’d ever thought.

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