Oregon grads get high debts with diplomas


Goodbye hallowed halls, hello reality.

Two thirds of the 18,000 students getting degrees from Oregon's universities next weekend with leave school with an average debt of about $19,000.

Oregon graduates carry the eighth-highest debt in the nation because tuition is higher and aid levels lower than in most other states.

On average an Oregon family has to come up with 36 percent of its income, after financial aid, to put a student through a state-run university, according to figures from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

Tuition and fees have risen 21 percent in the past five years and average $5,031 a year, plus books, room and board and other expenses.

Portland State University graduate Darren Boerl, 21, worked summers and at least 25 hours a week during school to get his criminology degree.

He has applied to be a Portland police officer but says it will take him 10 years to pay off his debt although he would like to do it in five.

Precise figures for 2007 aren't in yet, but university officials say they are expected to be higher than last year when debt averages ranged from $17,629 at Portland State to $23,703 at the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls.

Much of the difference reflects the amounts of the schools' endowments, thus their ability to offer financial aid.

Job prospects are good and graduates can expect to earn about what their parents did, yet face much higher costs for housing, health care, energy and other necessities.

Some students are cutting their aspirations short.

Diertra Lynn, 26, is graduating from the University of Oregon and would like to go to law school. But the single mother of a 6-year-old is carrying $50,000 in school debt and says she may seek work in a bank to make living expenses and try to pay down the debt.

Many students are caught in the middle, coming from families who earn too much to qualify for need grants but not enough to keep up with rising college costs.

In the 1960s, when tuition was $110 a term at the University of Oregon, for instance, students could work part-time and emerge debt-free easily.

Today 88 percent of students in Oregon work, according to an Oregon University System survey of the class of 2005.

There are signs that tuition in Oregon may stop rising so quickly, and legislators appear likely to put $46 million more in the state financial aid program, bringing it to $107 million for 2007 through 2009.

Educators generally agree it is advisable to go into debt if need be because college graduates earn considerably more over their lifetimes than others.

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