PORTLAND – College loan debt is outpacing the cost of living and medical inflation, according to a report released Wednesday by Students for Maine Public Interest Research Group.

The report comes at a time when the state is encouraging more Maine students to go to college.

From 1993 to 2004, the average loan debt for college graduates increased by 107 percent in the Boston and southern Maine areas.

In the same time frame, the cost of living increased by 37 percent and health care costs increased by 74 percent, according to the study released Wednesday by University of Southern Maine students. The report based its analysis on the Consumer Price Index.

“It’s pretty hot out today, but it’s even hotter for students today than 10 years ago,” said USM Student Body President Andrew Bossie.

College debt is “stifling” and is closing the doors on some who can’t continue their education, Bossie said. “When student debt increases three times faster than the cost of living in the past years, that is a serious, serious issue.”

Recent graduates are leaving Maine for higher-paying jobs so they can afford to pay back loans, he said. “Boston and New York are getting our graduates and citizenry that have the skills necessary to move Maine forward economically.”

The group had already reported in April that rising student debt is keeping some graduates from going into teaching and social work because those jobs don’t pay enough.

Bossie will graduate in May owing $27,500. That will mean he’ll have to take a year off before going to graduate school to pay down some of his debt, he said.

Bigger student loans and rising interest rates mean larger monthly payments that have to be balanced with rent, food and health care, said Marie Stolzenburg, president of Students for Maine PIRG.

The report “is a call to action,” Bossie said. “The local, state and national governments need to address this issue if we are to move forward.”

The group offered these solutions:

• Increase need-based grants to lower demand for larger student loans;

• Ensure that loan repayments are fair and affordable;

• Establish incentives for colleges and universities to control costs.

Joseph Austin, dean of student life at USM, said debt is one of the biggest problems students face.

“In some cases students are being prevented from finishing their education,” Austin said. “I’m very concerned for them. I’m also concerned for the state.”

It costs Maine students about $14,000 a year for tuition, room and board and fees. “We are trying to control costs,” Austin said. “It seems like that’s all we’re working on.”

The only budget increases are for salaries and benefits, he said. “We’ve got to stay competitive.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.