In Utah, many college students graduate without debt | Best states
College graduates across the country step onto the podium this month to receive their diplomas, but many also leave that stage with thousands of dollars in debt. The average American college student will graduate at around $ 28,000 – but the picture is different in Utah.
Alexis Wilson, 23, graduated from the University of Utah in May 2017 with no debt. She now has a full-time position with the state’s Air Quality Department. She uses her paycheck and benefits to cover her expenses and has an disposable income for the first time in her life. She’s even considering following her parents’ advice and investing money early.
“If I had student debt, that would be off the table,” says Wilson. “I feel very liberated.”
Average graduates with a bachelor’s degree will take 21 years to complete their Loans, but Wilson – who made it through college without credit – isn’t that uncommon in Utah. The state – settled by groundbreaking Mormons, ruled by a politically conservative majority, and known to be business-friendly – has the lowest student debt in the country. In fact, Utah student debt has remained at an elevated level in recent years downward trend. What’s Utah’s Secret?
About half of the population of Utah is now a Mormon, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a powerful influence. Anyone in the faith will tell you, Mormons don’t like debt.
“I’ve worked in many other states; I’ve never worked in a place where students were so guilty, and I think that has a lot to do with the culture here,” said Mary Parker, director of student enrollment at the university of Utah.
“Since the beginning of the Church, the Lord’s prophets have repeatedly warned against bondage to debt,” says LDS.org. “If there is debt to be incurred, such as a reasonable amount to buy a modest home or complete an education, the debt should be paid back as soon as possible.”
Parker was doing her PhD in Utah on the impact of financial aid for low- to middle-income students. She found that the majority of them work in school and that students and their families often feel uncomfortable about taking out loans.
“They’d rather have two jobs or take fewer credit hours,” says Parker. “Students cut hours or dropouts altogether to avoid borrowing.”
This can be a barrier to graduation, and Parker says the university is working to get the message across to students that some debt could pay off if it means they graduate and get into a higher-paying job sooner .
If Utah students avoid borrowing, how do they pay for school? Scholarships and low-wage jobs can only go so far.
On average, Utah has some of the lowest tuition fees in the country. University of Utah President Ruth Watkins credits government funding to higher education.
“Our state legislation has been a good partner,” says Watkins. “Your support enables us to keep our tuition fees affordable … unlike other states.” In fact, the school has the lowest tuition fees among his own kind in the Pac-12 conference.
Many states cut funding for higher education after the 2008 recession, but Utah avoided deep cuts because it had funding for rainy days. Until 2016, the average state spent 18 percent less per student than before the recession. In Utah, government spending fell 13.7 percent.
Across the country, public universities are responding to declining government funding by increasing tuition fees. Utah is not immune to this trend, but the state weathered it better than most, according to Melanie Heath, communications director for the Utah System of Higher Education. Annually published tuition at public four-year colleges has increased by $ 2,333 since the 2007-08 school year. In Utah, it was up $ 1,723.
“In a public institution, the cost of a student’s education is split between government funds and tuition. We were very fortunate that the split was kept at 50/50,” says Heath, noting that it is better than many others States. “Utah is fortunate to have a supportive legislature that makes higher education important.”
That year, Utah approved an increase in funding for its eight public higher education institutions.
“We recognize the economic driver of higher education,” said Senator Evan Vickers of the Republican state, chairman of the subcommittee on university funding subcommittee in Utah. “Our economy in Utah is doing well. Companies want to come here. We have been recognized as one of the most business-friendly countries, but we need the workforce to make it happen. We need to provide the means to incentivize institutions and make these graduates available to fill these jobs. At the end of the day you can show a return on investment. “
“Education changes lives,” says Vickers. “I know this firsthand. I’m the first graduate in my family.” Vickers’ parents worked as manual laborers but were able to pay his tuition fees. “My parents decided that I would go to college, they helped me and we switched generations because of it.” Following his parents’ example, Vickers helped his five children finance their education. Now he says his 14 grandchildren all have college ambitions.
Utah may outperform some states in promoting higher education, but fund increases over the past five years have been average, according to Michael Mitchell, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. While government spending and tuition fees are the main drivers in the student debt equation, there are other factors to consider.
“I think you have to look at demographics,” says Mitchell. “Utah is a very white state. We know that white households have significantly more wealth on average; incomes are higher on average, they have more access to home wealth-building, they have more access to networks to pay for college, and the post-graduation income payout is also higher for white students. “
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also heavily subsidizes its higher education institutions. Classes for Mormon students at Brigham Young University, a private school, costs $ 5,460 a year, compared to $ 7,956 at the University of Utah. BYU ranks 11th in the country among national universities on the US News & World Report list Schools with the best value for money, with only about 26 percent of graduates dropping out of school with debt.
LDS Church Education Officer Kim Clark said Mormons view education as a central part of their faith, based on the doctrinal foundations of the Church and the colonization of Utah.
“To build Zion – to build great communities in which people can grow and prosper – you had to raise their people,” says Clark. Many of the state’s public colleges began as academies founded by early Mormon pioneers.
“I’m really grateful for everyone who went before us and worked so hard for education,” says Clark. “We see the fruits of this system in our graduates, who go out into the world with tremendous education but are not burdened with debt.”