Stockton University sophomore Julia Colins, 20, is getting some scholarships to help cover her college costs. But in her first two years, she already has borrowed $12,000 and likely will graduate with debt of twice that amount.

The psychology major from Washington Township, Gloucester County, also expects to borrow to pay for the graduate-school degree she will need to get a job. She’s not thrilled about the debt but said it is much less than it would have been had she gone to the private college she considered.

“Then I would already be in debt $30,000,” she said.

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Student debt continues to rise for new college graduates, according to the Project on Student Debt report released Tuesday by the Institute for College Access and Success. The average debt nationally rose 2 percent to $28,950. Almost seven of every 10 college graduates in 2014 had some debt.

In New Jersey, the average debt was $28,318, and 68 percent of students graduated with some debt.

Over the past decade, student debt in New Jersey has increased 75 percent, from $16,223 in 2004. The percentage of students graduating with debt also increased, from 58 percent.

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Nationally, New Jersey ranks 18th in the amount of debt students have and eighth in the percentage of students who have debt. Not every college reports its data, and the numbers do not include private for-profit colleges. The data also do not include students who left before graduating but still have debt.

The report notes that debt varies widely from state to state and college to college. At Princeton, which has among the most generous financial-aid programs in the nation, only 17 percent of students graduated with debt, averaging $6,600. At Georgian Court University, 90 percent of students graduated with debt averaging $40,551.

Colleges have taken steps to help students by adding more financial aid and encouraging students to graduate in four years. Stockton awards more than $12 million in scholarships and allows students to take up to 20 credits at the flat-rate tuition cost, which has improved graduation rates.

The average student debt at Stockton dropped in 2014 to $33,543, but is second-highest among the state colleges after The College of New Jersey at $33,635.

Students interviewed at Stockton said they think middle-class students are hit hardest because they are not eligible for grants and not wealthy enough to just pay for college without loans.

“We’re all middle-class people here,” said Molly Schultz, 19, of Cherry Hill.

Rutgers University-Camden this week announced a new financial-aid program called “Bridging the Gap” that targets working New Jersey families.

Families with an adjusted gross income, or AGI, of $60,000 or less will receive a grant covering all their tuition and the general campus fee not already covered by federal and state grants. Families with an AGI of $60,001 to $100,000 will receive a grant covering 50 percent of their remaining tuition and the general campus fee after any other need-based federal and state grants are applied.

“Bold moves are necessary to counter the real debt challenges that face college graduates across the nation,” said Rutgers-Camden Chancellor Phoebe A. Haddon. In 2014, 77 percent of Rutgers-Camden graduates left with debt averaging $28,651.

For the most part, students saw debt as part of the process of getting a college degree.

Stockton senior Rachael Greenberg, 22, of Sparta, will graduate with a degree in health sciences, and already is applying to graduate school for occupational therapy.

“I will have to borrow more,” she said. “But I hope to get a good job.”

Contact: 609-272-7241

Twitter @ACPressDamico

STUDENT DEBT

COLLEGE DEBT PERCENT WITH DEBT
Kean 32,886 68%
Montclair $28,070 71%
NJ City $20,763 71%
Ramapo $29,972 69%
Rowan $31,759 73%
Rutgers-Camden $28,651 77%
Rutgers-NB $25,228 62%
The College of NJ $33,635 60%
Stockton $33,543 76%
William Paterson $25,062 76%

Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.

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