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Easing Student Debt Load

February 16, 2012, 9:50 PM by Angela Kennecke

Easing Student Debt Load
SIOUX FALLS, SD - According to a recent scorecard, South Dakota ranks 22 in the nation for overall financial stability of the people living here.

But the state comes in the highest in the nation for the number of students leaving college in debt--some 75 percent of students have loans to pay back, averaging a little more than $23,000 each.

But a unique solution to get families to save more for their children's college education is gaining interest.
Along with the majority of college students in South Dakota, Augustana Junior Molly Kokesh will graduate with debt. She says the idea of paying back thousands of dollars in loans can be overwhelming.

"You anticipate debt. You just hope that once you get out of school you're going to get a job that will help you pay that back and that job is worth it in the end,' Kokesh said.

But finding that good paying job isn't always easy.

"Kids graduate from college in South Dakota and go into a debt load-- 75 percent, go into job market paying lowest wages in the nation," Susan Randall said. 

Randall from South Dakota Voices for Children says one way to cut down on all this debt is to help families save for college. She points to programs currently in place in 13 states that offer incentives to families to put money away in their state's 529 programs.

"It might be $100 to open that account in kindergarten and then have some additional incentives," Randall said.

But Randall knows that finding the money for such incentives in the age of budget cutbacks may be next to impossible. She hopes by introducing the idea to reduce the college debt problem in the state that others will take notice.

"In a way it's a way to pay forward, at a very young age you're making an investment in education and paying forward for that work force you know you're going to need that's skilled and competent,” Susan Randall said.

And educators say investing in a college education is the best way to bring up wages in the state.

"A four year college degree still has the most significant buying power of anything you can give your child. That has not changed. Right now the difference between someone with a college degree and someone without over lifetime wages is about $1 million," Bob Duffett President of Dakota Wesleyan University said.

To learn more about the various states’ programs that offer incentives to parents saving in 529 plans, click here.

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