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Regents OK $200 million in bonds for student loans

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Increased tuition and surging enrollment have put student loans in a crunch, prompting the Utah Board of Regents to approve one of its biggest bonds Friday.

The $200 million loan will likely only cover loans for the next six months, when loan representatives say they will probably be back for another $200 million.

"Students are taking on much more debt than they have in the past," said Richard Davis, deputy executive director for finance and administration at the Utah System of Higher Education. "You can see how much pressure that has put on us."

Although issuing loan bonds is standard for the group, Davis said this year's particularly high bond indicates the higher number of students taking out loans to finance their education. Last year, the group used about $285 million to buy and administer student loans, compared to only $60 million in 1992.

The Board of Regents approved a $185 million bond in September but had to get an additional $55 million in unexpected funds in December.

"We spent that quite quickly, and we had to go back a little quicker than we expected," Davis said. "Education is much more expensive today than it was five to 10 years ago."

Total new loan volume for the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority is up more than 60 percent since 2001, with a total of $327 million in new loans for 2005.

That trend signifies more students are carrying lots more debt once they graduate from college, Higher Education Commissioner Rich Kendell said. On average, Utah students have $14,049 in student in loan debt when they leave college, he said.

"Student loans have just skyrocketed. In a way that's good because students are taking out a loan and staying in school and getting a degree," Kendell said. "We're hoping that they are planning and have the resources when they get out to pay those loans back."

Much of that increase in loans has to do with fewer grants, increasing tuition and stagnant family incomes, said David Feitz, associate executive director of the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authori- ty.

In addition, more students are consolidating all their debt into one loan, upping the amount the higher education system has to pay to buy each loan.


E-mail: estewart@desnews.com