Student debt levels below national average

Dec. 9, 2013

Lecture hall

The average student debt load of $26,625 for UW-Madison undergraduates is below the recently reported state levels of $28,102, which includes UW System and private schools.

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Undergraduate student loan debt at the University of Wisconsin-Madison continues to be below the national, state and UW System averages, according to the Office of Student Financial Aid (OSFA).

However, average 2012-13 debt load increased slightly over 2011-12.

The average debt load of $26,625 for UW-Madison undergraduates is below recently reported state levels of $28,102, which includes UW System and private schools. Across the country, loan debt continued to rise last year, climbing to a national average of $29,400.

The new figures, reported in November by OSFA, reflect federal and private student loans borrowed by students themselves for their educational costs, including federal loans borrowed by graduating students who attended and may have borrowed at other institutions previous to attending UW-Madison.

The 2012-13 UW-Madison figures showed that 3,326 graduating students graduated with debt (of nearly 6,500 graduates). The average debt load of $26,625 was an increase from $25,759 in 2011-12.

Average debt in 2012-13 for student graduating with master’s degrees, Ph.D.s, medical degrees and veterinary medicine degrees declined compared to 2011-12.

While these debt figures may not necessarily reflect funds borrowed only to attend UW-Madison, they reflect reality for graduates who will now be repaying these loans. Loans borrowed by parents on behalf of students are not included. Debt amounts are in real dollars, not adjusted for inflation.

There are a few possible reasons for the increase in undergraduate student debt amounts since 2011-12, says Susan Fischer, OSFA director. State grants for low-income undergraduates have remained stagnant despite the increased cost of attending school.

Federal Pell Grant dollars increased slightly but the increase was not sufficient to offset the increase in costs. Additionally, the continuing difficult economy has caused some students and families to rely more heavily on borrowing than they might have otherwise planned, she adds.

Undergraduate student loan debt at the University of Wisconsin-Madison continues to be below the national, state and UW System averages.

Graduate/professional students who did borrow continued the trend of utilizing the more affordable federal loan programs instead of accessing private educational loan programs.

In addition to graduating with below average debt, there are several trends in the area, Fischer says.

Tuition has been frozen across the UW System and the job market for new grads is improving. Students are improving their time to degree because of increased attention to advising and a number of curricular improvements. All of those factors could impact how much debt a student incurs and his or her ability to pay it back.

In recent years, UW-Madison has put an emphasis on increasing use of grants from the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates and the Great People Scholarship, both designed to provide need-based aid.

UW-Madison students during the past two years have been among the top colleges in the nation in repaying many of their student loans, particularly federal loans given through the university, federal data shows.