By Andy Metzger

State House News Service

BOSTON -- The amount of student-loan debt for graduates of public colleges and universities in Massachusetts has increased by 27 percent over the past three years, Commissioner of Higher Education Richard Freeland told a legislative subcommittee Monday.

"Over the past 10 years, as the state has struggled with its own fiscal challenges, funding for our public colleges and universities has simply not kept up with growing enrollments and rising costs, which has resulted in a steady shift of the cost of education from the state to students," Freeland said, according to his prepared remarks.

The Subcommittee on Student Loans and Debt, an offshoot of the Committee on Higher Education, has been discussing educational borrowing around the state, and met Monday at Suffolk University, where Freeland testified.

Debt aversion among the children of immigrants and low-income college students is "linked" to lower participation in higher education, Freeland said in his prepared speech.

"My public college presidents tell me, for example, that more and more students are attending part time rather than full time, and stretching out their time to degree, in order to deal with increased costs," Freeland said. "Even more concerning, some students are almost certainly being priced out of our system because it has simply become too costly although we do not have hard statistics that show significant reductions in college participation among low-income students."

In 2011, the average University of Massachusetts student graduated with $26,800 in loans; state university graduates carried $22,400, according to Freeland's testimony, which said community-college graduates "carry less debt" but also have less earning power.

Students graduating from community college with an associate's degree carried on average $7,200 in debt, according to data provided by the Department of Higher Education.

The percentage of students requiring loans has also increased, Freeland said.

The subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Paul Mark, a Peru Democrat, and Sen. Eileen Donoghue, a Lowell Democrat.