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MT Student Loan Debt Lower Than National Average

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MISSOULA -

More than one million Americans this year will graduate with substantial student loan debt. Numbers from the government group, the National Conference of State Legislatures show graduates will have an average of  $26,500 in student loans. The NCSL numbers show the average student loan debt for Montana students falls below the national average.

Excitement is in the air at the University of Montana as about 2,900 students get ready to walk this stage on Saturday.

"I'm very excited to graduate, but I'm going to miss it here," said UM senior Kelly Dohan.

"I'm so excited. It's going to be awesome. I've been looking forward to it for a very long time," said soon to be graduate Eric Bruner.

For many students the excitement of graduating only lasts for so long.

"You get stressed during school, because you have finals and tests, and then you graduate and you're all excited, but it comes back to you, because then you have to worry about paying off student loans," Bruner said.

Bruner has just over $25,000 in students loans to pay off.

"There's pressure to pay them off, not to default on them, more pressure to get a job, so that you can afford paying off those loans," Bruner said.

Bruner's not alone. More than one million Americans are graduating with substantial student loan debt this year.

"Student loan debt is rising across the board. We're just seeing it happen slower in Montana than the rest of the country," said Greg Kolwicz with UM's Student Assistance Foundation.

A report by the government group shows Montana's average student loan debt falls between $20,000 and $22,000. That's below the national average of $26,500.

"When the recent recession hit, a lot of states responded by slashing their budget for higher education, and Montana froze their tuition which helped keep most of the costs associated with higher education lower," Kolwicz said.

Kolwicz doesn't expect this to last for long though.

"We're still seeing a rise in books and housing, and that's still things students need to take out loans for," Kolwicz said.

He said the average student debt in Montana will continue to rise slowly, but surely.

The NCSL is a bi-partisan government group that provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues.

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