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Lots of SD students borrow for college, but not too much

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Lots of South Dakotans borrow to pay for higher education, but they borrow less per student than their peers around the country.

South Dakota has close to the lowest student loan debt load in the nation, according to the Federal Reserve.

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With between $18,000 and $20,000 owed by those who borrowed in order to pursue college or career training, only Wyoming students have a lower per-borrower debt load, at less than $18,000, reports the Fed. The report from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis took a snapshot in the third quarter of 2012.

At the same time, another data website reports that the Rushmore State has the highest percentage of four-year college students who borrow to pay for post-secondary education. At 78 percent, South Dakota leads the nation in per-capita borrowing to pay for education, ahead of second-place New Hampshire (74 percent) and third-place Iowa (71 percent), reports CollegeInSight, a data website that tracks college costs and student loan information. That data was from 2011 and 2012.

The South Dakota Board of Regents tracks some student loan data, though not in as much detail as these reports, said Janelle Toman, the Regents' communications director.

Across South Dakota's six public universities in 2012, 81 percent of students received some form of financial aid, she said. Of that aid, 62 percent was through the federal student loan program.

Toman said South Dakotans tend to be financially conservative and will often avoid borrowing money unnecessarily.

"South Dakota students and their families will take on new debt cautiously. They tend to manage their debt load carefully, so we often see the amount of debt South Dakota students graduate with being at or below national averages," Toman said.

A robust need-based grant program for South Dakota students would help ease the college debt burden, she said.

The state started with a modest program in the 2013-2014 school year, awarding about $200,000 to needy students chosen based on information in their federal financial aid applications.

Toman said the Regents hope to grow the amount awarded in future years.

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