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Student graduates from South Dakota college debt-free

December 31, 2018

ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) — Olaf Hanson did something few college students are able to — he graduated from Northern State University without any debt.

Hanson, who grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, played football for the Wolves, which provided one scholarship. A WolfPACT scholarship, based on academic achievement, also put a dent in his tuition. The rest of his costs he was able to cover through work and paid internships.

“If any one of those pieces would have been missing I wouldn’t’ve been able to do it without (debt),” Hanson told the Aberdeen American News .

Hanson said he isn’t sure exactly how much he saved over the course of nine semesters.

The average college student graduating in 2017 from a South Dakota institution — public or private — carried $31,000 in debt, according to The Institute for College Access and Success. About three-quarters of students that year had at least some student debt.

A full-time student attending Northern from fall 2014 to spring 2018 would have about a $32,000 bill for tuition and fees alone, according to information from Northern and the South Dakota Board of Regents. That does not include room and board.

Hanson, 23, wasn’t taking a full class load this last semester — just one class plus his honors thesis, he said.

He said he’s grateful for the donors that funded his academic and athletic scholarships, and the opportunities he has had with internships in town. His internships were with the Aberdeen Development Corp. and Dacotah Bank.

Hanson walked across the Johnson Fine Arts Center stage recently at Northern’s winter commencement and starts working full time at Dacotah Bank in Aberdeen Jan. 2. He’s worked there part time since his internship.

Growing up in a city that saw tremendous growth in his lifetime — Fargo’s population in 1990 was just more than 74,000, and in 2017 it was estimated at more than 122,000, an increase of 64 percent — Hanson said that Aberdeen is just about the right size for him.

“It’s big enough where it’s got everything that I want, but it’s not so big that I have to sit in traffic on my way to the bank on my three-minute commute,” he said.

It took a little bit for Hanson to decide exactly what his major was going to be.

“When I came in I was totally undecided,” he said. “A lot of people on their visit had their name tag and their intended major, and mine said undecided on it and it was that way for at least the first year.”

But once he started taking business classes, it clicked.

“I switched my major from biology all the way to management, and then liked my business classes and finance classes. Math and finance classes have always come easy to me, so that helped narrow it down to banking and finance, and then eventually just finance,” Hanson said. “I have three minors — economics, accounting and banking and financial services.”

His honors thesis was about the millennial recession response.

“I was studying the behavioral finance effects of the Great Recession of 2008 on millennials — particularly Northern State college students,” Hanson said.

In his role at Dacotah Bank he’ll work with local businesses starting in spring, he said.

In his time at Northern, Hanson got some experience setting up a business through the Northern Honors Entrepreneurs program. After using a bike-sharing service in Fargo, he thought the concept would work at Northern.

“I started reaching out to bike share companies, and as soon as they would find out how big our campus was and how big our community was, I would stop getting responses,” Hanson said.

He finally found a company that would provide quotes and get the ball rolling, but then all communication ceased, he said.

“I think what it boils down to is they were launching new programs in Sacramento, California; and Austin, Texas; and Atlanta — cities that were literally doing hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars of business with them, and I was trying to do about $100,000 of business with them,” Hanson said. “I think they just allocated their time accordingly.”

Even though it didn’t come to fruition, Hanson still said he learned from the experience.

“I definitely don’t regret the career path I’ve taken because that could be a fad that comes and goes before you make your money back on it,” he said.

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Information from: Aberdeen American News, http://www.aberdeennews.com

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