Connecticut student borrowers take on the most debt in the nation

At $35,947, Connecticut has the highest student-debt-per-borrower average in the United States, according to student loan and refinancing marketplace website’s recently released Congress & Student Debt Study and Analysis.

In addition to having the highest student-debt-per-borrower average, according to LendEDU’s analysis, Connecticut also has the nation’s:

  • 12th highest percentage of graduates with debt (68%).

  • 29th highest default rate (5.66%).

  • 31st highest college enrollment (133,999).

LendEDU’s study found that student loan borrowers from states with two Democratic senators — like Connecticut — had about 25% more student debt on average than those from states with two Republican senators.

However, the study also found that borrowers from Republican-held states defaulted on their student loans about 55% more often than those from Democratic-held states, which LendEDU’s analysis says is “especially interesting considering that Republican senators support student loan and college affordability much less often than their Democratic counterparts.”

State congressional districts

At $42,912, the average student debt per borrower in Connecticut’s 4th Congressional District, represented by Democratic Congressman Jim Himes, is not only higher than the state average, but is the highest among Connecticut’s five congressional districts.

When it comes to average student debt per borrower, Connecticut’s other districts — which also have Democratic representatives — are as follows:

  • District 1 (Rep. John B. Larson): $32,003.

  • District 2 ( Rep. Joe Courtney): $28,900.

  • District 3 (Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro): $38,255.

  • District 5 (Rep. Elizabeth Esty): $20,246.

The portion of graduates with student debt in Himes’s district is 70% — tying with DeLauro’s 3rd District for second highest in the state. At 84%, the 5th Congressional District has the highest portion of graduates with debt in the state, while the 1st District has the lowest, at 52%.

While the student loan default rate in Himes’s district (4.99%) is lower than the state average, it is the second highest in the state. The 5th District has the highest student loan default rate, at 11.84%, while the 3rd District has the lowest, at 3.73%.

The 4th Congressional District has a total college enrollment of 21,537 — the third highest in the state behind the 3rd District (46,440) and 5th District (22,451). The 2nd Congressional District has the lowest total enrollment in the state, at 11,605.

As part of its analysis, LendEDU researched the views of all 535 congressmen in the United States Senate and House of Representatives, and found that Himes supports low student loan interest rates, Pell Grants and improving financial literacy.

For example, Himes showed his support of low-interest rates, as well as reform, when he voted in favor of the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act in 2013, LendEDU noted, and has said he wants colleges to be held more accountable on affordability.

Loan and debt management tips

When students and their families plan for higher education, student loan debt “should be considered only one element of a plan to pay for college,” said Wilton resident Matthew Greene, president of Matthew Greene Educational Consulting LLC in Westport.

“Most families will want to and need to pay for college using a combination of parent and student savings, current parent and student income, gift aid … and loans,” said Greene.

Although Greene believes some loan debt is “an acceptable burden to take on in order to gain the benefits of a college education and degree,” he said that “too much debt can cause a lot of stress later in life — especially if for someone who wants to earn a graduate degree … or wants to enter a lower-paying profession, which could mean a longer time to repay the debt or the inability to pursue such a career given a need to earn more money in the for-profit sector.”

Students should minimize debt and try to take on only “good” debt, said Greene, “which means subsidized Stafford Loans, for which the government pays the interest while a student is enrolled in school, and on which there are maximum loan limits.”

Whether it be “the state flagship university or more local options” like Western Connecticut State University, Southern Connecticut State University or Norwalk Community College, Green said, “families should avoid much of the private loan market and consider in-state options for college.”

“Doing so for even the first two years of college can save a lot of money for later years and earning a degree as a transfer at another university,” he said.

Greene said families also shouldn’t let “the sticker price of colleges” limit where a student applies.

“I find that many expensive private colleges and universities are offering major discounts [in the form of] merit scholarships to qualified students, bringing their costs down significantly,” he said.

“Also, wealthy colleges with lots of endowment funds may provide substantial need-based aid with few or no loans in the package, if you can get in.”

After graduation, Greene said, students should work to create “a realistic loan repayment plan” and “consider a range of strategies to repay their debt,” including refinancing and consolidation options, income-based repayment plans and loan forgiveness offers.