More and more West Virginians are getting their college degrees but they’re left tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

The average 2011 graduate ended up with $26,600 in unpaid loans according to a U.S. News study.

West Virginia State University hosted a roundtable discussion Monday that included educators, student counselors, state and national leaders to delve into the growing problem of student debt.

State Senator Chris Walters of Putnam County says he knows just how expensive an education is today.

“I was a student not too long ago. I still have debt from my college years,” the newly elected senator said.

West Virginia college students and those hoping to go to college are currently in the midst of filling out federal financial aid forms, called FAFSA. It’s a step that has to be taken before a student can be eligible for any federal or state financial aid.

Second District Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito has three children who’ve gotten their degrees. She stresses it’s not just the tuition students are worried about.

“There are a lot of hidden costs with college: you’re not working, you’ve got travel costs, books. So I think this is an issue that weighs a lot on parents,” Capito said. “It certainly did when we were going through it and I know it does today.”

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, also the father of three college graduates, says what worries him the most is the fact that 60 percent of West Virginians who start college never get their degrees.

“If [students] are not finishing but they’re incurring a lot of debt, something’s wrong!”

Maisha Challenger with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid also took part in the roundtable discussion. She says there’s a lot of grant money coming from the government that’s being left on the table.

“The federal government offers 150 billion dollars [in grants, loans and work study] and a lot of people don’t realize that,” Challenger said.

She says students and parents need to know that and how to access the money. The best way to do that, according to Challenger, is to make parents and students aware so they can apply for as much funding as possible to avoid crippling college debt.

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  • Rcl

    What students need to watch for is spending 26 thousand on a useless degree. We also have people who are not prepared for college.