STILLWATER — Alexandra Hall doesn't regret taking out student loans to pay for her degree at Oklahoma State University.
But when she went through an online exit counseling session at the end of the spring semester and saw the words “Total Owed: $37,000” flash across her computer screen, she did feel a bit of panic.
“It's kind of scary,” she said.
When she walked across the stage at Gallagher-Iba Arena two weeks ago, Hall joined thousands of Oklahoma college students who graduated with a mountain of student debt.
The rising cost of college and an increase in the number of students who go to graduate school have contributed to massive growth in student debt over the last decade.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student debt almost tripled between 2004 and 2012, climbing to $966 billion nationwide in the fourth quarter of 2012. During the same period, the number of student borrowers in the United States increased by 70 percent.
Nationwide, the average student loan balance has grown from $15,651 in the first quarter of 2005 to $24,803 in the fourth quarter of 2012, surpassing both auto loans and credit card debt.
Oklahoma's average student debt is below the national average, coming to $22,610 in 2012, according to Federal Reserve Bank of New York figures.
Hall, 28, went to college for two years after high school, then left without finishing her degree. After a few years in the working world, she decided to finish a degree in Spanish.
When she went back to college, she didn't get any financial help from her parents, she said. For a while, she tried working part time while she took classes part time. But she wanted to finish her degree more quickly, so she left her job and enrolled at OSU full-time.
Although she had an on-campus job to help pay for school, Hall said she couldn't have paid for her education without loans.
“For me, it was a critical part,” she said.
Although she's graduated from OSU, Hall won't have to begin paying down her loans immediately. She plans to enroll in the nursing program at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City in the fall — “So, more debt,” she said.