Student debt relief proposal steers Utica graduates to local careers

The average debt of undergraduate students graduating from Utica University has decreased over the last five years, but is still substantial, according to information released by the school.

In the 2016-17 school year the average debt was $31,694. In the most recent school year, 2020-21, the average debt was $28,911.

At Hamilton College, approximately 1 to 2 percent of graduates stay in the Mohawk Valley after graduation. The rest move away.

Brochures about scholarship and student loan options.

Hamilton officials do not have any data on why graduates chose to leave the area. However, anecdotally, officials said graduates may leave for larger metropolitan areas because they offer a greater number and diversity of job prospects.

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. has a proposal to address both fronts: He is looking to start a program to have businesses help with student debt, a move he says also will help keep graduates in the area.

Picente first broached the idea during his State of the County address in April.

“Some do it on a limited basis,” Picente said. “This will allow them to do it on a wider basis.”

How the debt relief program works

Picente looks at student debt relief as a possible benefit for area employers. He put it alongside other benefits, such as health insurance and 401(k) plans.

The county will partner with the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties to assist local employers in providing student debt relief as a benefit.

Picente said federal recovery funds will back the program.

“That way it’s not all on their end,” Picente said of helping businesses implement the benefit program. “We’re really scratching the surface.”

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