A college degree has never been more expensive. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, college tuition has increased more than 439 percent since 1982 and 5 percent since last year.
Student loans are the No. 2 source of household debt, and students are borrowing more money to pay for college than ever. New data from College Access and Success shows that students who graduated in 2010 carried 5 percent more debt than the previous year.
FinAid.org, a financial aid information source, claims that two-thirds of four-year undergraduates leave college with debt. They also estimated that for the class of 2011, average debt was $27,200—or, if parent loans were included, $34,000.
Bowdoin made last week's Huffington Post list of "Five Schools with the Best Financial Aid," along with Williams, Vassar, Amherst, and Pomona, due in large part to the January 2008 decision by Trustees to eliminate loans from the financial aid process.
Nonetheless, 43 percent of the Class of 2010 took out loans, with an average of $18,229.
"Student debt goes up and it doesn't ever go down," said the publisher of FinAid.org to The New York Times.
As the recession drags on, those with student loans are being hit especially hard. College graduates often find themselves saddled with debt and tax at the same time, unable to buy a home or obtain other credit.
Many Bowdoin students tend to leave Maine after graduation, often finding themselves in cities with high costs of living.
"Opportunity Maine" is a state program started in January 2008 designed to ease students' financial burdens while encouraging graduates from Maine colleges and universities to stay and work in the state.
"Maine has an issue of brain drain," Director of Student Aid Stephen Joyce said. "A lot of students come here for college, but most leave after they graduate."
"There are more job opportunities outside of Maine," first year Emma Wheeler said. "I also want an urban life in a big city—more culture, more excitement."
The program provides a state income tax credit for student loan payments made by Maine college graduates who subsequently live, work and pay taxes in the state within 10 years. Alternatively, the tax credit may be available to Maine businesses that make their employees' education loan payment.
The average student credit will be $2,100 each year, but the figure varies depending on a student's tax liability and how much student loan he or she has repaid. Some may even claim up to $5,500 each year.
All current Bowdoin students are eligible for this loan once they have earned a degree. The College has promoted the program ever since its launch.
"Its great because it's financially advantageous to students and great for the state—Maine needs a highly educated workforce," Joyce said.
Every student who takes a loan during any of their four years at Bowdoin is told about the program and given the materials they need to apply for the credit.
The Student Aid Office has also been putting up flyers in Thorne and Moulton Dining Halls and even dedicates a page to the program on its website.
"Because in Maine, we're not able to offer above the national pay average, and because student debt is enormous, with the incomes that Maine can provide in general, we end up losing, sometimes, our best and brightest, because they're looking for opportunities that can help pay off their student loans and their debts," said former Governor John E. Baldacci in a 2007 Orient article.
For many students, though, it seems that opportunity takes precedence over debt burden.
"Maine has been a perfect home for four years, but I don't know the prospect of paying off student loans would come above taking an opportunity that would truly allow me to grow in the ways that I'm looking for," said senior Sadie Nott, who plans to pursue a career in urban planning and design.