Student loan debt in New Jersey more than doubled over the past 10 years as the total nationwide hit an all-time high of $1.36 trillion.

An analysis from credit reporting agency Experian finds the debt load on former college students in New Jersey jumped 126 percent from the third quarter of 2008 through the third quarter of 2018. Graduates and dropouts still owe a total of $42.5 billion, compared to $18.8 billion late last decade.

More than 35 states saw their debt total increase twofold or more. Nationwide, student loan debt increased 129 percent over the 10-year period. Up 20 percent from 2015, the average student loan borrower is carrying a balance of $22,600.

"Affordability is front and center with all the higher education institutions, and I think they are doing a much better job educating students about that," said Pam Hersh, director of communications and public affairs for the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities. "But it's got to happen before you get to college."

While student loans are not specifically called out, academic standards set by the state Department of Education say students by the end of grade 12 should be well versed in the areas of loans, debt and borrowing. For instance, according to a DOE spokesperson, students are expected "describe and calculate interest and fees that are applied to various forms of spending, debt, and saving."

A bill signed into law in early January requires financial education in grades six through eight. A piece of legislation that cleared the full Senate in 2018 would adjust high school graduation requirements to include instruction on tuition assistance programs and student loan debt.

Hersh said more than 30 percent of graduates finish New Jersey's senior four-year schools with zero debt. The average student loan debt per borrower among NJASCU institutions, excluding Rutgers and New Jersey Institute of Technology, was $29,250 as of 2017.

Zakiya Smith Ellis, New Jersey's secretary of higher education, said the latest Experian numbers underline the importance of addressing college affordability and creating more flexible loan repayment options on the back end.

"It's also about student success," she said. "Students who fail to graduate are far more likely to default on their student loans. Our office is working with colleges to ensure that students actually complete their degrees and get good jobs that enable them to repay their loans."

While debt continues to grow, the Experian analysis finds the total number of delinquent loans is on the decline — down 4 percent over the past three years. In the third quarter of 2018, 5.67 percent of all student loans were delinquent.

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