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Student Debt Rising, but Graduation Rates Flat

A new report finds that it’s taking increasingly more student debt to produce a degree in this country – meaning that while students are collectively paying more for an education, the nation’s colleges and universities aren’t producing a proportionate increase in degrees and certificates.

The report from the Washington, D.C.-based research group Education Sector created a new measurement of colleges’ success based on publicly available data on student debt and graduation. The figure, called the borrowing-to-credential ratio, looks at the total amount of student borrowing at a university during a three-year period and divides it by the number of people who earn degrees in that period.

Nationally, the average amount of debt it takes to produce a degree increased steadily during the three years studied, from $13,334 per credential in 2006-07 to $18,102 in 2008-09.

“It’s taking more and more debt to produce each degree,” said Erin Dillon, senior policy analyst for Education Sector and co-author of the report. “States ... have had to lower their investment in higher education. But that doesn’t mean lower prices; it just means students are paying more. At the same time, we’re not doing a good job of graduating students.”

The figures show that during the three-year period ending in 2008-09, California had the lowest debt-to-degree ratio of any state. Colleges and universities in the Golden State produced $6,008 in student debt for every degree issued.