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A positive pattern continues: More than half of UW–Madison seniors graduate with no debt

May 6, 2021

For the fifth consecutive year, well over half of graduating seniors (57.2%) did not take out student loans while earning their bachelor’s degree at UW–Madison. Among those graduating seniors who borrowed, the average student loan debt ($27,107) is slightly lower than it was for the previous graduating class ($27,173). This puts UW–Madison’s borrowing rates and average graduate debt below the most recent national and statewide data available.

The Office of Student Financial Aid (OSFA) and the Student Success Through Applied Research (SSTAR) Lab completed an analysis on student borrowing and repayment to add context to the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) College Scorecard. As a note, the College Scorecard only includes federal loans, while the SSTAR Lab’s analysis includes data on student loan borrowing from all known sources including federal, state, private, and institutional loans while enrolled at UW–Madison.

In less than 10 years, the number of UW–Madison undergraduates graduating without student loan debt has grown by nearly 10% (9.6%).

UW–Madison continues to help reduce debt among Wisconsin students by investing in financial aid programs such as Bucky’s Tuition Promise, first available for the 2018-19 academic year, and the expansion of FASTrack for Wisconsin residents. Historically, Wisconsin residents borrow at higher rates than their nonresident peers (though less total debt at graduation). Continued progress in reducing debt among Wisconsin residents is anticipated. Currently, there are more than 2,500 Bucky’s Tuition Promise and Badger Promise recipients enrolled.

UW–Madison also continues to be a leader among its peers with respect to loan default (students who fail to repay their loans). The cohort default rate fell from 1.3% for the 2016 cohort to less than 1% (0.8%) for the 2017 cohort, the most recent cohort available. This is significantly lower than the national average (9.2%), peers (3.2%), and the state of Wisconsin (8.2%). This indicates that the investment UW–Madison students make in their education is rewarded with jobs that allow them to repay their loans successfully.

“It’s great to see the investments in FASTrack and Bucky’s Tuition Promise reflected in lower student debt and even more students graduating debt-free,” says Helen Faith, director of student financial aid. “Our team celebrates the progress made and we will continue to deepen and strengthen our work to support student financial wellness, helping students to reduce their debt while building financial strategies to support their future success. We value our graduates’ ability to repay their debt after graduation, and we will amplify this important work, especially in reducing the need for our Pell-eligible students to borrow loans in the first place.”