State student debt lower than average

More than $300 million worth of financial aid disbursed to 20,796 WSU students this past year



Students in Washington state follow Alaska, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah in having the lowest average student debt in the U.S. The state, however, ranks 42nd in the nation in terms of high school graduates who reach for higher education.

JAKOB THORINGTON, Former Evergreen reporter

Loan debt continues to be a growing issue for many college students in the country. WSU joins Washington state institutions in keeping its average student debt number lower than the national average.

College students in the state have the sixth-lowest average student debt in the nation, behind Alaska, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah.

Phil Weiler, vice president for marketing and communications at WSU, said Washington institutions benefit from one of the most generous state legislatures in the country.

“We are at the beginning of a significant change of the way Washingtonians can get support to go to college,” Weiler said. “It’s not free college for all, but it’s what I would call a ‘responsible free college.’”

He said the downside to free college is that some people have no need to be given it because they can afford to pay for it.

“It’s really the people who need the support that should be getting the support,” he said. “That’s what the state of Washington is doing.”

According to the university’s Budget Office and Office of Institutional Research, 57 percent of WSU students graduated with loan debt as opposed to the national average of 65 percent. Twenty-eight percent of WSU students pay no tuition, and 30 percent pay full tuition.

Korbin Vollmer, junior marketing major, said his student debt ranges between $5,000-$10,000 from student loans.

“It’s not a good feeling to have in your head picking that up from loans,” Vollmer said.

He said the university’s financial office does try to help students with the best intentions, but the overall system could be improved in general.

More than $300 million of financial aid was given to 20,796 students in 2018, according to the Budget Office.

Weiler said while the state is among the nation’s best in reducing student loan debt, the number of high school graduates that go on to attend college could improve as the state ranks 42nd in the country in that area.

About 40 percent of high school students in the state get a bachelor’s degree by the time they are 26, Weiler said. This creates a need to import people from other states for jobs that require four-year degrees.

“It’s a smart thing that the state legislature is doing,” he said.

The number of undergraduate students at WSU that attain their degrees in four years is about 36 percent.

The average debt of students who graduated from Washington baccalaureate institutions in 2018 was $23,671, according to a WSU Government Relations press release. The average debt of students nationwide is $28,650.

“Yes, it’s true that you can get a job without a four-year degree, but at some point, you kind of hit a plateau in your career,” Weiler said.