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June 25, 2017

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Nevada among states with lowest student-loan debt in country

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Steve Marcus

Students walk southbound in the quad area during the first day of the fall semester at UNLV Monday, August 23, 2010.

The western United States has lower levels of student debt than the rest of the country, and Nevada is no exception.

A report released Friday by LendEDU placed the Silver State 45th in the nation for student loan debt. (The lower the ranking, the better states did.)

Around 48 percent of the state’s four-year graduates hold student debt, according to the study. Around 47 percent of UNLV graduates held student debt, slightly under that of the 48 percent of graduates from the University of Nevada, Reno, although UNLV graduates tended to have slightly more debt per person than their UNR counterparts.

That follows a similar trend in many western states, which tend to have lower rates of student debt compared with those on the East Coast. Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming had the lowest rates of college debt in the country, while Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire had the highest.

Nevada has the sixth-lowest student loan debt, just behind Arizona and California.

But why do western states perform better? It turns out there are a number of reasons, which range from the quality of state higher education policy to the amount of grant aid available to students.

Nevada’s numbers are helped by the fact that most graduates in the state come from public colleges, which tend to cost less than their private counterparts.

A report by the Institute for College Access & Success in 2014 found that 33 percent of UNLV students received Pell Grants — a number that was even higher at Western Nevada College and Nevada State College.

Pell Grants, the single largest source of financial aid in the country, don’t have to be paid back, making them ideal for low-income families trying to pay for college.

“A lot of the college graduates [on the East Coast] are graduating from expensive nonprofit schools,” said Debbie Cochrane, vice president at TICAS. “Western states tend to align more with public schools.”

Tuition in Nevada is also thousands of dollars less than the national average. On the other hand, western states tend to offer less grant aid, said Cochrane.

Nationally, the amount of student debt has slowly ticked up over the years, Cochrane said.

The big question for universities, she said, will be what that figure will look like years from now.

“The best way to curb student loan debt is to increase grant aid,” Cochrane said. “Students borrow for college if they don’t have enough savings or earnings and the grant aid isn’t enough to pay the bills.

“State grant coffers have faced some of the same challenges that state colleges have seen in recent years,” she added.

LendEDU, which connects student loan borrowers with refinancing services, determined the rankings by analyzing student financial data released every year by Peterson’s.

The study only included four-year public and private nonprofit schools, although Nevada State College wasn’t included.

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