Students at the University of Wisconsin face lower levels of debt in comparison to national and state averages, a new report shows.
The report from the Institute for College Access used federal data from both public and private four-year institutions, showing the nation’s average debt for the graduating class of 2012 is $29,400, while Wisconsin’s statewide average is $28,102. In comparison, the UW data digest shows UW’s average total debt was $26,625.
Michelle Curtis, the associate director at the Office of Student Financial Aid, said UW students usually do a good job of repaying these loans because students get a good education and get jobs post graduation.
“One way I approach student debt is: There’s a certain amount that is acceptable as an investment in your own future and it’s just a question of how much of a burden is that based on what field you’re going into and did you borrow responsibly or not,” Curtis said.
The report indicates a heavier concentration of debt in the Midwest and Northeast regions partly due to a larger amount of costlier private institutions.
UW’s tuition costs in 2012-13 for in-state undergraduate students was $10,403 and $26,653 for out-of-state undergraduate students, both lower than other Big Ten Institutions.
Susan Fischer, UW financial aid director, said some states’ student debt levels were higher because they do not have strong student grant programs, though even those with good programs could have high debt levels.
On average, out-of-state students try to graduate earlier in attempts to keep their costs of attendance low, Curtis said. Conversely, she said they might be borrowing more money because of the higher level of tuition costs, which could contribute to the high level of student debt.
In the 2012-13 academic year, undergraduate enrollment was 30,441 and of that, 56 percent completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Of the percentage of UW students applying for aid, about 38.7 percent or 11,780 students received need-based aid, the digest said.
The digest shows $106,407,029 was distributed to 12,632 UW students in Federal Unsubsidized Stafford Loans alone.
One contributing factor to high debt levels post-graduation is students borrowing the maximum amount awarded simply because they can, Fischer said.
“When you do the FAFSA, it gives you an expected family contribution and that determines your need,” Fischer said. “We have families that have a very high expectation, that have no financial need, but still borrow the maximum.”
Curtis said several repayment plans exist through the Federal Student Aid programs, a division of the U.S. Department of Education. These plans hinge on several factors focused mainly on income, she said.
Most plans bind students into up to a 10-year, fixed monthly repayment process, Fischer said. Figures from the Federal Student Aid website show a maximum repayment period for student debts ranging from $20,000 to $40,000 is about 20 years. Income-based repayment plans are a huge asset to assist students in paying back their loans, she said.
If students are delinquent on payments, their loans default, Fischer said.
“The default rate for our students right now is about 1 percent. So that means 99 percent are paying their loans back. That’s phenomenal,” she said.