SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Student debt continues to climb across the nation, but here in KELOLAND, the state’s largest public university is seeing a decline in student debt.

Why area college grads are financially fairing better than surrounding areas in tonight’s Your Money Matters.  

Student Debt is a fear of many high school graduates.

“I was worried how much it was going to cost and how much it was going to affect me when I got to my professional job,” SDSU Class of 2022 graduate Kailee Schultz said.

But after graduating SDSU last May, Kailee Schultz has found those fears were not nearly as challenging as she thought.

“I actually have paid off all of my student debt, just a year after graduating I do not have any student debt left, which is fantastic. I think a big piece of that is because of the cost of attending SDSU,” Schultz said.

“The last three years we’ve held tuition flat, that’s contrary to what’s happening in the states around us,” SDSU President Barry Dunn said.

Dunn says a degree from SDSU costs significantly less than public universities in surrounding states.

“It costs 39 percent less to get a degree at SDSU than it is at University of Minnesota,” Dunn said. 

Dunn says nearly a third of SDSU students graduated debt free in 2022 and those who did have some federal loans fell far below the national average of just over $28,000 in federal loans while attending public universities.

“At South Dakota State, student debt has been dropping for our graduates for five or six years in a row,” Dunn said. “The average debt of a student graduating this spring from SDSU will be about $22,000, which really is quite affordable given the benefits they receive.”

“The cost of tuition wasn’t enough to justify a huge student loan, able to pay most of college tuition out of pocket after those scholarship opportunities and overall cost,” Schultz said

Schultz says her degree in Business Economics helped her secure a great first job with the FDIC in Sioux Falls and without having to worry about any monthly student loan payments, she feels like she has a big head start in life.

“Being able to pay for groceries, being able to pay for rent…it allows me to have a lot more free time and more disposable income to spend on whatever I want,” Schultz said.

President Dunn says the growing popularity of dual credit classes in high school is also helping to lower the cost of college for many students. Last year 10 percent of SDSU freshman came in with enough dual credits to finish college a full year early, helping to drastically reduce the cost of their college degree.