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Editorial: Not finishing college has lingering debt impacts

“If they don’t graduate, they’re sentenced to a lifetime of not being able to pay their debts.”

– University of New Mexico Provost Chaouki Abdallah

And that’s a heavy load for former higher education students to carry.

The somewhat good news is that students attending New Mexico’s four-year universities have the lowest student loan debt in the country, partly due to very low tuition rates and the Lottery Scholarship, which covers most of undergraduates’ tuition – but not books, fees and other expenses.

New Mexico is the only state where the average debt upon graduation is less than $20,000 – $18,656, compared to the national average of $28,400. But that’s the case for students who complete their schooling.

The bad news is that students who don’t graduate run up debt, too. New Mexico students as a whole have the highest student loan default rate in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Students who fail to graduate not only can’t enjoy the long-term employment benefits a higher education diploma brings, but are still left with paying off the cost of not following through to a degree. Student loan debt cannot be discharged through bankruptcy.

And it’s not going to get any cheaper to attend college. The College Board just reported that the average cost has risen again.

The real lesson here is that students need to be academically prepared for college when they start, with some idea of where the expected education will lead – and how the expenses will be paid for. College should be viewed as an investment with an expected return.

Going to college is a big commitment of time and money. Not finishing can have a long-term negative financial effect. We do students no favors by helping them begin a course of study where academic failure and economic burden are likely outcomes.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.