SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It’s a day many college graduates look forward to: the day student loans are paid off. 

That day was last week for Cory Foster, who graduated from the University of South Dakota with a business management degree in 2012.

Foster posted about the milestone on Facebook. With interest, he totaled his student loan payments to more than $35,000 over the past 10 years. A 2007 survey from the South Dakota Board of Regents listed USD undergraduate resident tuition and fees plus room and board at $10,412, while tuition and fees were $5,752.

“It was awesome,” Foster said about seeing his loans paid in full. “Definitely a stress relief. Ten years of paying that and you look back at all the interest that you paid in addition to the amount you took out and it makes you cringe.” 

Foster said he made one big final lump sum payment to pay off the debt just to “get it done with.” 

He’s happy to no longer be part of the roughly 73% of college graduates in South Dakota who have student loan debt totaling $3.6 billion, according to the Education Data Initiative. 113,000 student borrowers live in South Dakota and 60% are under the age of 35.

“It was a huge relief and makes me feel now I can buy that home that I’ve been putting off,” Foster said. “I never really felt, until the past few years, that I could get ahead.” 

Student loan debt is the second largest household debt, behind house mortgage, according to The Brookings Institute

Student loan debt was an issue Sen. Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls) criticized state lawmakers for not addressing enough during legislative sessions. 

“We have serious deficits in education. So far, all I’ve seen from the Republican Party, their biggest education initiative is trying to ban trans-females from competing in athletics,” Nesiba said during Thursday’s party leadership news conference. 

Student debt has also become a campaign issue in recent years and since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, there’s been a moratorium on federal student loan payments. That moratorium was recently extended to May 1 by President Joe Biden. 

Foster didn’t make student loan payments when the COVID-19 pandemic allowed payments to be delayed, but he did set aside the money he would otherwise would’ve put towards student loans into a savings account instead. When his savings account reached enough to pay off the rest of his student loans, he didn’t wait any longer. 

Foster cited career advancement and sticking to a budget as the biggest keys to paying off student loans. 

“Getting to the point where I simply made more money made it way easier,” Foster said. 

After graduation, Foster said he was “flying by the seat of pants” and spent two months applying for a bunch of jobs that he says looking back on he was probably unqualified for. 

Through a friend, Foster started working for Sioux Falls-based company Safe-N-Secure as an installer for security systems. He called the job a bit of an “ego check” but quickly learned positions shift and there are ways to move up. 

An injury sidelined Foster from installs, but he was able to work out of the office and ended up helping run the company’s payroll and bookkeeping after the person doing that position left the company. 

Foster ended up shifting from that bookkeeping position to an all sales position and has worked with the same company since graduating college. 

“Accounting was my least favorite thing of business school,” Foster said. “I wouldn’t have even been offered that position without the degree. That was the first time it started to pay off for me.” 

More than 10 years after having to make his own post-high school decision, Foster said he wouldn’t change anything. Originally, he wanted to attend the University of Nebraska like both of his parents, but he noted the price for out-of-state tuition was too much to take on. 

His advice for new college graduates is not to expect their college degree to pay off right away but rather years after college. 

“It’s a long term investment,” Foster said about a four-year college degree. “The opportunities that you get because of your degree might not pop up for three years, five years or 10 years down the road.”