Utah lowest in student loan debt five years running

For the fifth year in a row, Utah is the lowest state in the nation in average student loan debt for students at graduation.

Last year, Utah’s average student loan debt at graduation was $17,227. This is far below the nation’s average of $26,600, according to the Institute for College Access and Success, an independent, nonprofit organization.

“Utah, by the culture, is a little bit debt-adverse,” said Jed Spencer, Weber State University’s financial aid director. “We have less debt than most other states. Part of that is because the tuition is a little bit less here and Utah works hard to keep the tuition down.”

When students receive financial aid, they have options to take all or part of what is offered to them.

“A student here at Weber State, if they qualify for a Pell Grant, that will cover all their tuition and fees, not quite enough for their books,” Spencer said. “Many students . . . will take out a loan just to cover books. Some students will cover books and maybe use it to buy a computer or something like that.”

On the other hand, Spencer said, many students basically live off their student loans, deepening their debt.

“Others, they take out as much loan as possible every single year and they’re really living off of it, and school is a secondary thought,” he said. “They’re really not progressing in school, and they are getting more and more and more into debt.”

Though there are WSU students who misuse student loans, there are many who do not.

“(Paying for school) has overall been a combination of Pell Grants, scholarships, and out of my pocket,” said Jeff Wayment, a WSU marketing major.

Kelly Nelson, recent graduate of WSU, also never took out any student loans.

“My first year, before my mission, my parents paid just for my tuition,” she said. “Then I just out-of-pocket paid for my books and supplies. When I got back . . . I would usually work the summer, build up a savings, and then the (fall) semester I would just pay outright. A lot of times, I would do that payment program and just end up working throughout the school year part-time.”

Receiving a student loan is an option for many students, but some do not take it because they do not want to deal with what comes with it.

“I didn’t want to have to pay it back in the end,” Wayment said. “I (don’t want) to deal with the interest. I would rather just pay it up front and just be out the money.”

With Utah’s average more than $9,000 below the national average, the state maintaining its status for the sixth year in a row is not far out of reach.

“I feel a brighter hope . . .” Wayment said. “At graduation, I will be starting even and not behind.”