(INDIANAPOLIS) - State lawmakers are looking to address Indiana's growing student debt problem this session.
Indiana has the third-highest student loan default rate in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Education, and the average Hoosier graduates from a four-year college owing $27,001, putting Indiana eighth in the country for highest debt rate, Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney reported.
Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, has authored Senate Bill 182, which makes transferring credits easier and saves students money.
"I hear from constituents in my district all the time who their son or daughter took at class at IPFW or Ivy Tech, went to transfer that credit to Indiana University or Purdue, and found out they had to retake that class," Banks said. "College is just too expensive."
Banks has also co-sponsored another bill aimed at credit creep.
"Degrees are taking on more credit hours than before, and at the end of the day, the students and families will pay more for a college education," Banks said.
Preventing college debt is also a top priority for Learn More Indiana, an organization that helps students prepare and pay for college.
The group is offering a webinar at noon and 6 p.m. Friday at www.fafsafriday.org and one-on-one help at www.collegegoalsunday.org at 2 p.m. Sunday.
"The FAFSA form has a lot of in-depth questions on it. It can be a little intimidating for a lot of people," said Niccole Caan of Learn More Indiana. "So, this webinar is going to take people step by step through the FAFSA and show them what they need to fill it out."
Even if a person does qualify for state and federal aid, student debt can still be an issue.
"There's still a huge gap between what college costs and what students can afford," Caan said. "The best way you can do that is to start looking for scholarships. There's money out there. You need to look for it."
Universities said that they're working hard to be more efficient and keep tuition and fees affordable for families.
"We have reduced our ongoing base operating budget by $36 million over the last three years by reducing staff positions, consolidating some of our administrative operations, such as purchasing, and taking other steps," said Mark Land, IU spokesman. "Today, IU employs 483 fewer faculty and staff than it did in January 2011."
IU dropped summer session tuition 25 percent for in-state students, and Purdue will now use trimesters to allow students to get a degree more quickly.
"Purdue has acknowledged that the rise in tuition costs is unsustainable and that state allocations are not likely to improve in the future," said Chris Sigurdson, Purdue spokesman. "We're taking steps to grow other sources of revenue to help reduce Purdue's reliance on tuition increases and state dollars."
Banks said the credit transfer bill passed 50-0 out of the Senate and is awaiting a hearing in the House.
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