FARGO — Students at North Dakota's public colleges and universities have been borrowing less overall in federal loans.

Undergraduates who attended North Dakota higher education institutions in 2018-19 received $120.4 million in federal loans, a 31% drop from the $174.1 million in 2008-09, according to a report released this summer by the state university system. The figures exclude private and institutional loans.

The drop in federal loans correlates with the 2009 Legislature’s efforts to increase financial aid, according to the report. That included upping need-based grants by 227%, scholarships by 43% and establishing other programs.

North Dakota schools also have seen a 40% drop in borrowers, with 31,538 loans received in the 2008-09 school year down to 18,878 in 2018-19, the most recent year with available figures. Some borrowers may have been duplicated, according to the university system.

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And while fewer students are borrowing overall, the average annual federal loan amount per borrower increased from 2008-09 to 2018-19.

During that time period, the average amount at North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota increased 3%, reaching $6,648 in 2018-19. Other four-year universities in the state jumped 36% to $6,267, and two-year schools rose 38% to $5,536, the report said.

North Dakota appears to be following a national trend in overall loans, according to figures from the nonprofit College Board. Students across the U.S. borrowed $106.2 billion last school year, a 16% slide from the 2009-10 tally of $126.6 billion. Federal loans made up more than 88% of those figures.

Minnesota does not track the total amount of loans students who attend state schools receive, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education said.

Students who graduated from North Dakota schools in 2019 had an average of $29,037 in student loan debt, 1% less than the previous year, according to the university system's report.

A number of factors likely contributed to the decline in federal loans, said Jeffrey Jacobs, NDSU director of financial aid and scholarships. While there isn’t hard data to show its impact, Jacobs noted the North Dakota Academic Scholarship.

That scholarship totals $6,000 for students who have a high school GPA of 3.0 or higher, had no grade below a C and had an ACT score of 24 or higher, among other requirements for their college career.

The Challenge Grant, which was set up in 2012 to award $1 in state funds for every $2 raised in private donations for academic projects, also made it easier to receive more loans, Jacobs said.

Some schools in North Dakota are offering more scholarships, including NDSU, Jacobs said. Since 2010, the NDSU Foundation almost tripled its annual scholarship amount to $6.29 million for the 2019-20 school year.