If someone told you Utah has the lowest average student debt in the nation, would you believe them? You should.

A recent report by the Project on Student Debt looked at nationwide data from 2014 and concluded that the state of Utah has the lowest student debt, with a statewide average of $18,921. The state is trailed closely by New Mexico, with an average of $18,969. Despite Utah’s narrow lead, it falls well below the national average of $28,950.

Despite Utah’s low average, the U’s debt runs on the higher end of the state’s colleges. Average debt at the U is $20,019, significantly higher than that of BYU, which clocks in at $14,021. But while U students may have to take out more loans than students at other schools, the average debt at Westminster is higher still at $27,523.

Administrators at the U work to keep tuition costs down while continuing to provide a high-quality education, Cathy Anderson, associate vice president of budget and planning, said in an emailed statement.

Besides tuition, outside factors, such as books, rent and living expenses, affect students’ need to take out loans. Though the amount of debt at the U is greater than the state average, the percentage of students who take out loans is lower, at 39 percent. While lower tuition in Utah contributes to students’ decreased need to take out loans, a “culture of debt aversion” may also be a factor, Anderson said.

Utah, as a whole, enjoyed a decrease of $3,502 in average student debt in 2014 from the previous year, while the national average increased by $550. Despite the statewide drop, tuition at the U increased about five percent for 2015. A fee increase for the new Student Life Center drove the spike in tuition; however, it received student approval prior to being added to tuition costs, Anderson said.

For students, the U’s debt status is unsurprising, in part due to easily accessible financial aid. Katie Caudill, a senior in theater studies, chose to move to Utah from California and face out-of-state tuition. Though she found the roughly $15,000 she paid during her first semester “absurd,” she was able to drive down costs with readily available scholarships.

“I think they do want to help their students,” she said of school administrators.

Compared to California and other high-tuition colleges, Caudill views Utah as much more affordable, especially for resident students.

In coming years, administrators will continue to work to “keep costs low and use resources wisely,” Anderson said, though she was unable to comment on the reliability of low student debt in the future.

s.legg@dailyutahchronicle.com

@sarahnlegg

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