There’s No Good Way to Avoid Debt

Many Utah college students are staying away from college debt, but they seem to be working too hard to do so. And their graduation rates are low. This is the desperation many students apparently face in their efforts to avoid the debt burdens so many Americans face. In most cases there’s no easy way to avoid debt, but a lot of really hard ways. According to an article by Brian Maffly in the Salt Lake Tribune:

During a typical week, Realtor Dan Smuin drives all over the Salt Lake Valley showing homes, like a 5,000-square-foot place up Emigration Canyon with five bedrooms and lovely views of the path followed by 70,000 Zion-bound Mormon settlers a century and a half ago.

But he also spends up to 18 hours in a University of Utah classroom. He doesn’t get sleep and doesn’t socialize on campus, but he is almost finished with a degree in human development and family studies. Smuin will be among the 5,513 U. undergraduates receiving bachelor’s degrees this year — eight years after he began his studies at Salt Lake Community College. He worked 40 to 60 hours a week the whole time and is completing college without a penny of student debt.

Congratulations. People like Smuin are common in Utah. According to the article, while the average debt burden for college graduates is $25,250, the average Utah debt is only $15,509, the nation’s lowest. What’s more, only 44 percent of Utah’s college graduates even have debt, that’s the lowest percentage in the country.

About 68 percent of college graduates had education debt in 2010.

Not everyone thinks the no-debt plan is worth it, however. According to the article:

“A problem in Utah is we have a huge number of students working even though tuition is low,” Commission of Higher Education William Sederburg said. “You’re better off to go into debt and have a real college experience and not getting distracted on things that delay graduation.”

The accuracy of this statement remains a little unclear. While working a lot of hours (more than 20 hours a week) as a college student can cause students to drop out of college, it’s not really clear that the debt itself and “having a real college experience” is the best way to encourage students complete college faster.

That being said, the hard work plan isn’t much of a success either. The graduation rate for bachelor’s degree students in Utah is 51.5 percent. That means that only 51.5 percent of college students earn their bachelor’s degrees within six years. That’s among the lower rates in the country.

Nationally about 55 percent of college students earn their bachelor’s degrees within six years.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer