Student debt levels are among the lowest in a national study

Borrowers in Western’s class of 2016 had the 89th-lowest average student loan debt, and 38th-lowest among public colleges, according to an analysis of financial aid data from 1,161 universities by Lendedu.com.

About 65 percent of Western students get some sort of financial aid from WWU, which provided about $143.9 million in financial aid in 2015-16.

Here’s what that financial aid looked like:

  • Loans: 52 percent.
  • Grants: 27 percent.
  • Scholarships: 12 percent.
  • Part-time student employment on campus: 9 percent.

The 2016 graduates who borrowed graduated with an average of $19,727, compared with the national average of $27,975.

Clara Capron, Western’s assistant vice president of Enrollment and Student Services, offers several tips for families on making the most out of their higher education dollars.

Be conscientious about financial aid paperwork. For example, students who have accepted a federal Perkins Loan must return their signed Master Promissory Note by Sept. 22 to the Student Business Office or their loan will be cancelled.

Max out on federal tax credits for higher education expenses. The American Opportunity Tax Credit, for example, can reduce federal income tax bills by up to $2,500 per student for eligible taxpayers. Learn more from the IRS about higher education tax credits.

Be serious and strategic about applying for scholarships. Students can check with academic departments and Western’s Scholarship Center to find awards they may qualify for.

Keep the car at home. Save on insurance, gas and parking fees, and get around by bus. Students already have a bus pass: the Western Card.

Don’t put off finding a job. Working 10 to 15 hours a week can actually help students manage their time wisely – and the paychecks can help a great deal with expenses. Get to know the Student Employment Center, which keeps an electronic database of job openings on and off campus.

If your financial situation changes during the school year, tell Financial Aid. Some forms of aid do not run out, so your family may be eligible for additional help.

Be smart about student loans. Some students avoid them altogether, but a reasonable amount of debt can be a good investment in the future. Learn more about managing and planning for student loan debt at the Career Services Center’s Dollars and Sense website.

Several factors keep student loan debts down, Capron says. Two years of tuition reductions helped.

“Western students tend to not borrow more than they need,” Capron says.

Western also has a special grant fund for students who have already borrowed about $20,000 but haven’t yet graduated. About 250 to 300 students each year receive Viking Assistance Grants to help students cover expenses while maintaining reasonable debt levels.

And Western spends about $600,000 annually to expand the work-study program to about 250 students beyond those funded by the state and federal governments, which also helps students keep down their debt totals.