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South Dakota College Grads Struggle With Loan Debt

The average student loan debt for a four-year degree from a public university in South Dakota was roughly $28,000 in 2016. (
The average student loan debt for a four-year degree from a public university in South Dakota was roughly $28,000 in 2016. (
September 10, 2018

VERMILLION, S.D. – Another semester has started at South Dakota's six public universities with many students aware that upon graduation, they will face the highest level of student loan debt in the nation.

The unwelcome news from a recent study is not a surprise to administrators at the state's higher education institutions.

University of South Dakota President Sheila Gestring says the state's funding for higher education has dropped off at a higher rate than the national average since the Great Recession. And the state remains at the bottom when it comes to state funded scholarship programs.

"Puerto Rico and South Dakota hold the distinction of not having material needs-based aid available to its students, so of course that plays a role in the amount of loans that a student may have to take out," she points out.

Despite the obstacles, Gestring says USD spends 47 percent less than other universities in providing a four-year degree.

The report from the consumer finance website WalletHub shows that other states in the top five for the most student debt are West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Ohio.

Utah graduates had the least debt.

Gestring says students with loans need to remember that their first salary after graduation is only the beginning of a lifetime of earnings.

"Sometimes we place a little undue emphasis on the financial gains of a college education,” she states. “Our society still needs social workers and teachers, and how can you make that comparison all about a financial difference when the individuals want to make a difference in their community."

The average debt for someone attending a public college in South Dakota was roughly $28,000 for the graduating class of 2016.

Gestring says a four-year degree should not be out of reach for most families.

"If you work hard in the classroom, every family should be able to afford to send their child to a public university like USD," she states.

The study shows that where borrowers decide to live after graduation can play a big role in how quickly they pay off the debt. That means living in a state where the economy is good, and not states where unemployment is high for those between the ages of 25 and 34.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD