Student loan debt is still a problem, but Janelle Kilgore is doing her best to counter national trends.

The director of Student Financial Aid at UND said she already has college savings accounts set up for her three young children and has begun teaching them about the importance of financial responsibility.

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"Sometimes money is hard to talk to children about, but it's a really important component because we don't want them to come in for welcome week and not have any idea how they're going to pay tuition," she said.

Nationwide, student loan debt increased $31 million in the last part of 2014, according to the recently released Household Debt and Credit Report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The increase puts total student loan debt at $1.16 trillion, the second highest debt category under mortgages.

Students in North Dakota are no exception, but at UND, some students are graduating with less debt than in previous years.

Kilgore said the school tracks first-time, full-time freshmen who graduate within four years. The students in that category who graduated in May 2014 account for 26 percent of the class and left UND with an average of $19,423 in debt, which is down 7 percent from those who graduated in 2011.

"We're always taking a look at student loan debt and things like that because many of us have had student loan debt when we went through our undergraduate program," Kilgore said.

Digging out of debt

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York's report is based on data from the New York Fed's Consumer Credit Panel, which is drawn from anonymous Equifax credit data to build a nationally representative sample.

According to the group's website, student loan debt is the only form of debt that has continued to grow since all types of consumer debt peaked in 2008.

But Kilgore said 33 percent of the May 2014 cohort graduated absolutely debt free.

Renee Nilsen, a program coordinator for UND's Financial Wellness Center, said this could be because students are being a lot more proactive when it comes to debt and their finances.

"I think students are looking at how they pay for college and the potential for student debt a little differently than in the past as tuition costs nationally, not just here, have gone up," she said.

But this isn't always the case, as Senior Associate Dean for Education Gwen Halaas said most medical students at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences graduate with about $150,000 to $200,000 in debt.

By the numbers

Statewide, 83 percent of the class of 2011 graduated with some form of debt in North Dakota, the most of any state that year according to the Project on Student Debt. Those students had an average debt of $27,400, No. 13 in the nation.

Data was not available for North Dakota in more recent years, but a survey of more than 1,500 North Dakota University System students in 2014 found 60 percent had borrowed money to fund their education in the 2013-2014 academic year.

Kilgore said at UND, her office works with students to help them manage the money they've been loaned.

"We try and talk them through since you're awarded a certain amount; you're not required to accept that whole amount," she said.

Kilgore's office also encourages students to put any loan money into a separate account so that it's spent solely on the necessities, like rent.

A NDUS 2014 Student Affordability Report does show that the number of students borrowing and the total number of dollars being borrowed dipped at all NDUS institutions in 2012, but the bigger picture shows a substantial increase over the last decade.

Students at four-year NDUS campuses took out $22.7 million in loans in the 2012-2013 school year, a 28 percent increase from 2002. Students at two-year NDUS campuses borrowed $25 million in loans in 2012-2013, a much larger 45 percent increase since 2002.

At UND and North Dakota State University, students borrowed $129.9 million in 2012-2013, a 69 percent increase from 2002.

Kilgore said students are encouraged to find employment to offset the cost of their education and that UND also has payment plan options, but ideally, students should begin thinking about the cost of their education as early as possible.

"Talking through that financial literacy and creating those conversation at the dinner table really encourages that process," she said.

Resources for students: