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UW and WSU team up to tout college affordability

November 18, 2018

It’s easier than you might think to afford a quality college education in Washington state.

At least that’s the theme of a joint marketing campaign by Washington State University and the University of Washington.

In a conference call, WSU President Kirk Schulz and UW President Ana Mari Cauce said they are launching the initiative, called “Yes, It’s Possible,” to dispel the myth that students must incur massive amounts of debt to earn their degrees.

“Our state is second in the country in terms of the amount of dollars that they put into student financial aid,” Cauce said. “Almost half of students graduate and get a four-year degree without any known debt.”

The campaign begins just ahead of this year’s Apple Cup to take advantage of the attention that comes with the Cougars-Huskies football rivalry.

A new website, PossibleWA.org, features stories of students who found success despite financial challenges, as well as financial aid information for all of the state’s public universities, community colleges and technical schools.

Cauce and Schulz said many potential students focus on the sticker price of tuition without realizing the range of loans, grants and scholarships available to them.

“Too often people self-select out and go, ‘Well, I’m sure it wouldn’t happen,’ or ‘I’m sure I can’t afford it,’” Schulz said.

Cauce added, “We know that they qualify for financial aid, but they don’t know that.”

In Washington, about 48 percent of students at public four-year universities graduate with no known debt, Cauce said. For the rest, the average amount of debt is about $24,000 – less than the average in many other states, she said.

“Basically, it’s about the cost of an economy car,” she said. “And when you look at the college premium, which is about $1 million over a lifetime, this is a great investment.”

In addition to earning more, college graduates tend to be healthier and more civically engaged, Cauce said. The notion that college degrees have plummeted in value, she said, is “just not true.”

“We’re all in favor of multiple pathways to success, and college may not be right for everybody, but we don’t want them to rule it out based on sticker price,” she said. “And we also want them to know that college is a really great pathway to social mobility for students.”

According to Washington’s Council of Presidents – which includes the leaders of the state’s six baccalaureate-granting schools – only New Jersey puts more state money per student into need-based grant programs. Still, Washington’s State Need Grant has routinely run out of money before all qualifying students receive aid.

According to a December 2017 report by the Washington attorney general’s office, the number of student loan borrowers in the state has likely surpassed 800,000 since the latest available count in 2012. Another report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that student loan debt from Washington borrowers totaled $24.4 billion at the end of 2016.

Nationwide, borrowers owe more than $1.5 trillion in student loans, making student debt the second-largest consumer debt segment in the country after mortgages, according to the Federal Reserve data. Bloomberg recently reported that delinquency rates on student loans are near all-time highs.

Washington’s Council of Presidents says the three-year student-loan default rate for graduates of the state’s four-year universities is 4.7 percent, while the national average is 11.5 percent.

The “Yes, It’s Possible” campaign is expected to run for several months with radio and online ads throughout the state.

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