SALT LAKE CITY — With policymakers and academic leaders nationwide continuing to debate over what to do about high student loan debt and default rates, Western Governors University (WGU) continues to buck the trend by taking action and seeing results: For the sixth consecutive year, WGU’s three-year cohort default rate was less than half the national average.
The U.S. Department of Education released official cohort default rates (CDR) for all Title IV-eligible institutions on Wednesday. WGU’s FY2016 student loan default rate remains stable at 4.2 percent, which is less than half the national average of 10.1 percent and is lower than the average of other private four-year institutions nationwide.
Additionally, the average student loan debt for WGU undergraduates who borrowed for school and who graduated between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019, is $14,941—a decrease of $433 year over year and, again, half the national average. While 65 percent of graduating undergraduates across the nation borrowed for their education, according to The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), only 57 percent of graduating WGU undergraduates borrow student loans.
The competency-based, nonprofit university has sustained a trend of lowering student loan debt, while keeping default rates much lower than the national average, by focusing on providing access to affordable, high-quality degree programs combined with student financial literacy initiatives.
“From before their enrollment through their graduation, we empower our students to borrow responsibly by providing them with the tools they need to make informed decisions—not only regarding their student loans, but also with personal finance in general,” said WGU’s Vice President of Financial Aid, Bob Collins. “WGU is proving that affordability, financial literacy, and an innovative learning model create a successful formula for student financial wellness. When students thrive academically and, as graduates, go on to succeed professionally, they’re in a much better position to repay loans.”
WGU is founded on the premise of affordable, accessible, workforce-relevant education, which intrinsically enables students to borrow less and enjoy a stronger ROI. Building on that foundation, WGU offers ongoing assistance to help students with fiscal responsibility. In 2013, the university launched its Responsible Borrowing Initiatives (RBI), a personalized student advising program aimed at encouraging students to borrow only what they need—not everything they are eligible for. Since then, the average borrowing per student per year (among undergraduates who choose to take out loans) has decreased by 30 percent—a big factor in the reduction of WGU students’ debt at graduation. In addition, in a 2018 survey of graduates by Harris Poll Online, WGU graduates reported an average increase in salary of $18,400 within four years of graduation, compared with an average of $12,400 among other universities in the U.S.
“The national student loan debt debate is often misguided—we don’t need more amplifiers of the problem, we need more communicators of solutions,” said Collins. “In order to effect long-term change, the higher education community has to embrace innovation that drives down costs, as well as help students and families make informed decisions to borrow wisely.”