Up and Out

Looking at student debt in Wisconsin

Story by Austin Mai, Op/Ed Editor

I’m blessed.

When I was younger, my parents pushed me to take high school seriously and go on to college. They said it’d take hard work and long nights, but if I could make it there, they would do everything possible to ensure I could attend.

Through planning, scholarships and grants, I’m a junior and I currently have no student debt. I have to thank my parents, not only for helping with tuition over the semesters, but for being my biggest fans and, when needed, my biggest critics.

I’d be naive to assume others have been able to afford school comfortably.

Through different situations and circumstances, those seeking higher education must often look for assistance from various parties.

Whether applying for scholarships or grants, often times both are not enough to cover the expenses of college, so many students resort to taking out student loans.

Data from the Institute for College Access and Success’ project on student debt gave me a more clear view of students and their debt.

In Wisconsin, the average debt for a student attending either a public four-year institution or private non-profit four-year institution is $28,128.

At first glance this might not look so bad, as it ranks seventeenth in the country. Not only that, but 70 percent of graduates are expected to have student debt. This percentage ranks fourth in the nation.

Specifically here at UW-Eau Claire, the average debt of 2013 graduates was $22,658.

This is nearly $5,500 less than the state average. Hooray, right? Not so fast. The proportion of graduates with debt in 2013 was 76 percent. So while the average debt is down almost 20 percent from the state average, three out of four Eau Claire students are expected to graduate with debt.

The differences when comparing Eau Claire to private institutions in Wisconsin such as Marquette University shocked me. Average debt of graduates increased by over $10,000 to $33,775.

While only 65 percent of students are expected to have debt once graduated, full-time enrollment numbers were lower than Eau Claire

From these statistics, I’m left to believe it’s tough to enter higher education in Wisconsin and make it out without any debt.

But generally speaking, wouldn’t that be the case for all college students? I looked to our midwest neighbors next.

In Iowa, average debt and proportion of students with debt both rank ninth in the nation. With a slightly higher average debt of $29,370 and slightly lower proportion at 69 percent, Iowa remains close to Wisconsin’s student debt standards.

How about Minnesota? or Illinois? Both states are tied with Wisconsin for fourth highest proportion of students with debt in the country. For Minnesota, average debt sits at $30,894, ranking fifth highest in the country. And for Illinois, average debt drops closer to Wisconsin at $28,543 and fifteenth in the country.