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Average student debt rises, remains below state and national average

November 19, 2015 By Greg Bump

Average student debt among those who borrow to pay for school at the University of Wisconsin–Madison increased modestly for the fifth straight year in 2014-15, according to the Office of Student Financial Aid.

At $28,768, up about 4 percent, the figure remains below the national average of $28,950 and state average of $28,810 (both are 2014 figures.)

The number of students graduating with debt from UW–Madison fell from 51.8 percent to 49.6 percent from 2013-14 to 2014-15. Of the 6,798 students who graduated last year, 3,374 had student loan debt.

Terry Ruzicka, the financial aid office’s interim director, says the uptick in average debt is not surprising.  While the cost of attendance has continued to increase, the availability of state and federal resources to meet those costs has remained relatively constant.

Since the 2009-10 academic year, the debt load for newly graduated UW–Madison bachelor’s degree holders has risen from $24,493 to $28,768.

UW–Madison graduates continue to be well below the national default rate for student loans. For the Perkins program, the university’s default rate is less than 1 percent (0.94 percent), compared to the national average of 11.8 percent.

“We are fortunate to have a robust Perkins Loan program on the UW–Madison campus which has served over 125,000 UW–Madison students since its inception,” Ruzicka says, adding that the university remains very concerned that no new Perkins Loans can be made to new borrowers. The university continues to advocate  for Congress to reauthorize the program.

For the Stafford/Direct loan program, UW–Madison’s three-year cohort default rate was 1.5 percent, compared to the national average of 11.8 percent.

The student debt figures reflect federal and private student loans borrowed by students for their educational costs at UW–Madison as well as federal loans from institutions the student may have attended prior to UW–Madison. Loans borrowed by parents on behalf of students are not included. Debt amounts are in real dollars, not adjusted for inflation.

“Despite the incredibly low default rates that UW–Madison students exhibit, we are ever cognizant of the impact of student loan borrowing has on many of our alumni,” Ruzicka says. “There is a continuing need for solid loan counseling as well as fundraising for gift aid whenever possible in order to reduce the need for student loan borrowing.”

UW–Madison recently launched a comprehensive fundraising campaign, one of the goals of which is to increase resources available for need-based students.