Report: Arizona ranks low in average college debt

Report: Arizona ranks low in average college debt

November 9, 2015

Arizona’s Class of 2014 graduated from college with one of the lowest student debt ratios in the nation according to “Student Debt and the Class of 2014,” a new report by the Institute for College Access & Success.

Arizona is ranked fifth among low debt states nationally with students in the class of 2014 graduating with an average debt of $22,609. Ranked first among the low-debt states is Utah at $18,921 and the highest debt state was Delaware at $33,808. According to the report, average debt across the nation was $28,950. Data compiled for the report was provided voluntarily by more than half of all public and nonprofit bachelor’s degree-granting four-year colleges.

“Ensuring that our students and families are able to afford college is a top priority for the board and our universities,” said Eileen Klein, Arizona Board of Regents president. “This is especially important for Arizona where many of our students have financial need. Since the 2007 academic year, financial aid has nearly doubled. Today, almost 90 percent of our students receive some type of financial aid.”

According to the report, Arizona’s college debt rate grew at the rate of inflation during the past 10 years, only one of a handful of states that did not surpass the rate. Average debt at graduation from 2004-14 rose 56 percent nationally, from $18,550 to $28,950, more than double the rate of inflation (25%) over the period. For-profit schools were not included in the data.

During the 2013-14 academic year, total financial aid at Arizona’s public universities totaled $2 billion. Since 2007-08, total financial aid has nearly doubled with the greatest increase in federal aid with the vast majority awarded through Pell grants. Federal aid has nearly tripled from $79 million to $225 million, according to ABOR data.

Financial aid has increased as funding from the state has decreased in recent years. Before the economic downturn, the state funded 72 percent of the cost for resident students. In FY16, the state will provide approximately 34 percent for the cost of higher education.

“These results are not a coincidence. They are the result of a concerted effort to keep college affordable, which is more important than ever, in the wake of state budget cuts. Many Arizona students and their families can’t make their dreams of college a reality without the state’s help,” Klein said. “Our new proposed funding model that is designed to support resident students will ensure that higher education remains affordable while providing our state with the workforce of the future.”

Arizona’s public university system has employed several successful strategies to ensure students succeed through innovative pathways programs that create seamless transitions from community colleges to the universities, tuition guarantee programs that provide families with predictable tuition rates and lower-cost degree options such as Arizona State University’s Colleges at Lake Havasu, Northern Arizona University-Yavapai and the University of Arizona South. 

“Pathways programs keep students on track so they can graduate in four years at a lower cost and not have to take on the additional cost of another year or more of college to make up credits,” Klein said. “We’re very proud of the success of our students who are graduating a higher rates and able to take courses not only in traditional classrooms, but through online options that offer additional flexibility. In fact, about four out of 10 of our undergraduates are graduating with absolutely no debt.” 

Sarah Harper, 602-229-2542, 602-402-1341 |
Julie Newberg, 602-229-2534 |