Nearly 75 percent of UW System new grads in debt

Almost three out of four students who graduated from a University of Wisconsin System school last year did so in debt, according to a new report discussed Friday at the UW System Board of Regents meeting in Madison.

Seventy-four percent of in-state graduates had student loans at graduation, with the average cumulative debt nearing $3,100 each, up almost $2,000 from the previous year.

Financial advisors recommend students and parents plan ahead to lessen the burden after graduation.

Almost 1,800 students at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse walked across the stage, received their college diploma and an average $26,000 in student debt last year.

Alan Barta is only a freshman at UW-L, but he’s already thinking about the debt he’ll have in four years when he graduates.

“So I’m trying to pay them off now so they don’t build up on me,” Barta said.

He got a part-time job to help him start paying off his loans while still in school.

“I didn’t really want to, but I don’t really have much of a choice,” Barta said.

To help ease the pain of debt after college, financial advisor Larry Schamberger recommends parents talk to their kids about how their college tuition is going to be paid for.

“If you can break that up and talk to your child about what they’re going to be responsible for, that gives them more incentive to work hard and also to think harder about having a job whether it’s before college or during college,” he said.

Schamberger said college can creep up on a family quickly, so he suggests parents and students start saving for it as early on in life as possible.

“A lot of the college savings plans you can start with as little as $20-25 per month, and it accumulates over time. It’s easy to add a little more every year and do what you can,” Schamberger said.

UW-L Senior Abi Nixon’s parents did start saving for her and her siblings college tuitions early, and she said she is extremely thankful they did, because she will graduate this year without any debt.

“If you are constantly worried about, ‘I have to pay this debt off, I have to do this,’ you’re going to not have the ability to do what you actually want to do, and it just puts a lot of strain on people coming right out of college, and that’s not good for a college graduate when you’re thinking about getting a job and starting your own life,” Nixon said.

Schamberger said there isn’t a specific amount a family should be putting away each month, just as much as they can. He also reminds college applicants to apply for scholarships. He said those are often overlooked and should be looked at before applying for a student loan.

According to the national Institute for College Access and Success, 70 percent of the students in Wisconsin graduating in the 2013-2014 school year graduated with student debt, the third highest in the nation.