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New report from CPE says more undergraduates in Kentucky are completing degrees debt free


By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

A new report released on Tuesday by the state Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) says more students in Kentucky are completing an undergraduate credential debt free.

The report, Undergraduate Student Debt Levels in Kentucky, examines debt trends affecting undergraduate students attending a KCTCS college or public university in the state.

Based on the analysis, the proportion of students graduating with loan debt fell nearly 15 percentage points over the last five years, from 58.1 percent in 2017-18 to 43.2 percent in 2022-23. This decline was even more pronounced over the past decade, falling 20.8 percentage points since 2011-12.

“This good news is the direct result of efforts by legislators, CPE and public institutions to moderate tuition increases, award more financial aid, and provide greater financial literacy advising,” said Council President Aaron Thompson. “Encouragingly, we’re seeing debt levels fall across the board, even for underrepresented and low-income students at both two-year and four-year institutions.”

Among completers who graduated with debt, average loan balances fell from $29,224 to $26,414, a decline of $2,810 or 9.6%, over the same period. This general decline transcends degree levels and student demographics.

“Anecdotally, we hear that student loan debt is skyrocketing, but the data in Kentucky tell a different story,“ said Dr. Christopher Ledford, CPE associate director of data and analytics and the report’s lead author.

Other findings of the report include:

• At KCTCS institutions, average loan balances among students graduating with debt fell from $15,057 to $13,644 over the same period, a decline of 9.4%.

• Since 2017-18, KCTCS completers from underrepresented and low-income backgrounds, who graduated with debt, saw their average loan balances decline by 13.9% and 8.5%, respectively.

• At public universities, average loan balances among students graduating with debt fell from $34,833 to $33,317 over the same period, a decline of 4.4%.

• Since 2017-18, four-year completers from underrepresented and low-income backgrounds, who graduated with debt, saw their average loan balances decline by 5.7% and 6.5%, respectively.

• he proportion of completers graduating with debt has fallen substantially in recent years.

When those completers graduating with zero debt are included in the analysis, the declines in average debt across sectors become even more pronounced.

See the full report here.


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