Students are finding it harder to keep up with rising tuition costs despite low interest rates throughout the nation.

The current cost of attendance at the University of Wisconsin is about $15,250 a year for Wisconsin residents and $29,250 a year for non-residents, according to the Student Financial Services website.

For many UW students forced to take out student loans, these figures are accurate.

“When I get done with school, I will probably have about $20,000 of student loans to pay back,” UW sophomore Casey Stewart said.

Current interest rates for student loans are the lowest they have historically been, but the struggle to stay debt-free is still a major concern among students.

“The average student who borrows money today is typically $17,000 in debt,” John Selbo, Student Financial Services financial aid counselor, said. “Debt amongst students in the early ’90s was only about $7,000. This increase in debt is all during an era of relatively low inflation.”

It may have been possible for students in the past to save significant amounts of money, but it is becoming harder and harder to do so, according to Selbo.

“In the past typically you could save at least two-thirds of your expenses over the summer. Today if you were to do that you would have to earn about $53 an hour,” he said.

Selbo said he has noticed a spike in student borrowing over the last few semesters.

“We have definitely noticed more people coming in and requesting loan money,” Selbo said. “On this campus of about 40,000 students, we usually get requests for financial aid from about 35,000 of them.”

The philosophy of the Student Financial Services office is to loan students the minimal amount one needs without encouraging too much borrowing. Selbo also said he recommends students take a good look at their spending and consolidate any existing loans as quickly as possible.

“The interest rates have a cap set by the federal government,” Sandy Molumby, Great Lakes Educational Loan Services loan officer, said. “Recently that interest rate has steadily been going down.”

The most recent student-loan rates, effective July 1, 2003 through June 30, 2005, are set at 2.77 percent. Compared to regular interest rates this is very low, according to Molumby.

The interest rate for a non-student loan is currently set at around 4.6 percent. Molumby noted the most important thing a student can do is keep in touch with his or her financial institution regularly to ensure they understand all of the available options.

“I think I have federal loans with the low interest rate and then I have regular loans that are 4.87 percent fixed rate,” Stewart said. “I had to get the other loan because the federal loans just weren’t enough.”

Selbo said he thought the financial-aid services for students at most universities are good, but the problem lies within the policies of the government. Selbo also said he thinks the government should focus more on education and grants rather than money available for loans.

Stewart is the second child in a family of three and is part of the first generation in her family going to college.

“I am paying for school myself,” Stewart said. “My parents can’t help me at all, but I didn’t qualify for free money, either.”

The Pell Grant, unlike a loan, does not have to be repaid. Generally, Pell Grants are awarded only to undergraduate students. The current maximum one can receive from a Pell Grant is $4,050.

“The eligibility for a Pell Grant is very restrictive,” Selbo said. “That is just really unfortunate because there are a lot of people who need it.”

The minimum monthly payment of most student loans is $50 per loan. There is a six-month grace period after a student finishes school, either by graduating or dropping out, before they have to start paying back their loan.