LendEdu recently released student loan debt statistics for the class of 2016, and Utah continues to have the lowest average student debt in the country at $18,810 (compared to the national average of $27,975). In fact, Utah was the only state in the nation with an average student debt load under $20,000. Utah also has the lowest proportion of graduates with student debt: only 39% of Utah students take out student loans to help pay for college (compared to 59% nationally).
In other good news, the average amount of student debt in Utah has decreased each year for the last four years: in 2013, Utah students took out an average of $22,418 in student loans; in 2014, $18,921; and in 2015, $18,873.
What is Utah doing to keep student loan debt down?
Utah has one of the lowest tuition rates for public four-year colleges and universities in the country. The Utah State Board of Regents, with the support from the Governor and Utah Legislature, has worked to keep tuition as low as possible, so that higher education remains accessible to all Utahns. One of the Board of Regents’ strategic objectives is “Affordable Participation,” which aims to help increase the number of Utahns who decide to access, are prepared for, and succeed in higher education.
Awareness of financial aid opportunities
The Utah System of Higher Education’s outreach initiative, StepUp to Higher Education, helps students plan how they and their families are going to pay for college, starting as early as eighth grade. StepUp hosts FAFSA Completion Open Houses throughout the state to help students and their parents complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which is a gateway application that determines how much financial aid a student can receive for college in the form of Pell Grants, work-study, federal student loans, and some scholarships.
Increase in FAFSA completion
According to a new analysis, completion of the 2017-18 FAFSA by eligible high school seniors has jumped an incredible 39% over last year, thanks in part to these efforts. On average, FAFSA completions are up 10% across the country. These substantial increases could be attributed to the earlier filing timeline of the FAFSA for the 2017-18 year: instead of January 2017, students were able to start filing their 2017-18 FAFSA as early as October 2016. This change was made possible by allowing students to use the prior prior tax year to file. For example, tax data from the 2015 year was used to file the 2017-18 FAFSA. While this significant increase is good news for Utah, it could be because the state has such a long way to go. As of the 2016-17 cycle, Utah had the lowest rate of FAFSA completion in the country. In fact, that year, there were no school districts in Utah where more than half of the high school graduates completed the FAFSA.