The percentage of WWU undergraduates who borrow to pay for college has declined for three years in a row – and the average amount they’re borrowing has been cut nearly in half.
About 44 percent of 2017-18 graduates had borrowed an average of $11,907. By comparison, more than 55 percent of ’14–’15 Western grads borrowed an average of $22,357.
This makes Western an exception to the national trend—average student loan debt upon graduation rose to $29,800 for ’17-18 graduates nationwide, about 2.5 times the average debt for Western grads that same year.
Clara Capron, Western’s director of Financial Aid, says several factors are at play: Both the Washington State Need Grant and the federal Pell Grant have gone up, a rising minimum wage means students are earning more, and many families are able to contribute more, according to their expected contributions determined by their FAFSA forms.
WWU financial aid counselors often reach out to students who are accumulating very high debt loads and award a Viking Assistance Grant in order to reduce the need to borrow, Capron says. Western spends about $700,000 annually on Viking Assistance Grants.
Western has also created its own Work Study program, in addition to federal and state programs, to help high-borrowing students reduce their loans. WWU students earn about $600,000 per year through the Institutional Work Study program.
Photo by Dan Levine