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More SSU students taking on debt

  • Sonoma State University senior Cortney Sandoval looks at book prices for her final two classes at the campus bookstore on Thursday, August 23, 2012. Sandoval estimates that that her college education has put her into debt by $15,000-$20,000.

A higher percentage of students at Sonoma State University students take out educational loans than do students at other California State University campuses — and they graduate from SSU with more than $17,000 in debt, topping most of their CSU peers, according to CSU data and a nonprofit research group.

Still, the average debt load for SSU graduates is lower than the national average of $25,250, and given the lifetime earnings advantage that comes with a college degree, it still represents a good investment, experts say.

"The students should feel good; I think they can look at these numbers and feel reassured," said Deborah Cochrane, research director for the Oakland-based Institute for College Access and Success, which advocates for affordable higher education and tracks student debt levels.

SSU students who graduated with bachelors degrees in 2010, the last year for which there is complete data, had an average loan debt of $17,251, according to the CSU Chancellor's Office. That was an 18.4 percent jump from two years earlier.

The CSU average in 2010 was $15,804.

For some, especially newer students, the debt hints at a future of bright promise.

"Right now, it's kind of exciting," said Hayden Pheneger, 18. A freshman, he said he took out $5,000 in loans for this year. "I feel like it's kind of good debt to have; it's furthering my education."

But for others, it weighs heavily.

"It's disheartening," said Cortney Sandoval, 23, a fifth-year senior who said the bulk of her debt comes from housing expenses.

Her parents have helped, she said, but she still expects to graduate this year with between $15,000 and $20,000 in debt, partly because she couldn't get into the classes she needed to graduate in four years.

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