(UPDATED, 4:22 p.m., to reflect the fact that the average debt figures cover only students who borrowed for college, not all students.)
In 2017, the students who borrowed to attend college in Idaho left campus with a bachelor’s degree — and an average student loan debt of nearly $27,000.
Idaho’s student debt burden falls below the national average, but also runs considerably higher than most other Western states.
The numbers come from a new study, released Wednesday by The Institute for College Access and Success, an Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit. And as the state’s education, political and business leaders seek to improve Idaho’s low college graduation rates, the study casts some new light on questions of affordability.
The national context
When it comes to the bottom line, Idaho compares favorably. For students who borrowed for college, Idaho’s debt averages $26,675. The national average comes in at $28,650, a slight increase from the previous year.
In this category, Idaho ranks No. 35 nationally.
However, Idaho students are fairly likely to leave college with some student loan burden.
All told, 61 percent of Idaho’s Class of 2017 racked up some loan debt during their undergraduate years.
Nationally, that number comes in at 65 percent.
The regional context
The report’s authors acknowledged some stark regional differences. “High-debt states remain concentrated in the Northeast and low-debt states are mainly in the West.”
But as Idaho hopes to improve its graduation rates — to better attract employers, and to better compete with neighboring states — the new student debt numbers are sobering.
Among the 13 states west of the Rocky Mountains, Idaho’s student loan debt ranks third highest.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the authors suggested investments in higher education.
“The most effective action states can take is to deliver needed investments, including boosting financial aid to meet students’ cost of attendance and maintaining or increasing per-student funding levels to keep public colleges’ costs from rising.”
Idaho’s recent record is mixed.
This year’s Legislature voted to put $13.5 million into the popular Idaho Opportunity Scholarship, a $3.5 million increase. The funding boost will cover some — but not all — of the state’s unmet demand. Earlier this year, the State Board of Education reported a waiting list of 2,400 eligible scholarship applicants.
But at the same time, lawmakers increased the higher education budget by only 3 percent. The state budget grew by 5.8 percent overall.
Weeks later, the State Board approved tuition and fee increases for the University of Idaho, Boise State University, Idaho State University and Lewis-Clark State College. For Idaho residents, the increases ranged from 3.5 percent to 5 percent.
Coming in November: Idaho Education News will take an in-depth look at the state’s efforts to convince students to continue their education beyond high school — with an eye to affordability issues. Here is a link to our award-winning series from December.