CHEYENNE — The percentage of University of Wyoming students defaulting on federal loans is well below the national average, while five of the state's seven community colleges have rates that are above average.
According to U.S. Education Department figures, 4.9 percent of UW students defaulted on their student loans within three years of entering repayment. Nationally, 13.4 percent of student borrowers fell behind their repayments.
"Most of the large four-year public universities are going to be in the range of the University of Wyoming, and they're going to be below the 5 point mark for sure," Joanna Carter, UW Student Financial Aid director, said Wednesday. "Nationally, it's hard economic times. You got students who haven't been able to pay back their loans."
Carter said UW's low default rate can be attributed to various factors.
"Of those that borrow, they borrow low, and then we have many fewer borrowers," she said.
Only 42 percent of UW undergraduate students take out federal loans, compared with about two-thirds at most colleges, Carter said. That's because Wyoming provides good scholarship opportunities and many UW students save money for college or work while going to school, she said.
Families typically borrow $14,426 in federal loans for a student's undergraduate study at UW, according to the U.S. Education Department figures. Over a 10-year repayment period, they end up owing about $166 a month, which is on the low end of the national scale.
Wyoming's seven community colleges have default rates ranging from a low of 10.7 percent at Northwest College in Powell to 25.1 percent at Central Wyoming College in Riverton. Rates at other Wyoming colleges are: Casper College, 13.5 percent; Northern Wyoming Community College District in Sheridan and Gillette, 12.5 percent; Laramie County Community College, 17.3 percent; Western Wyoming College, 18.8 percent; and Eastern Wyoming College, 23.2 percent.
Matt Petry, deputy director of the Wyoming Community College Commission, said community colleges typically have higher default rates than public, four-year institutions because the smaller, two-year colleges cater to many part-time and nontraditional students who typically have a more difficult time repaying student loans.
"Not only are they part time, but typically they have more financial demands — they may already have families, they may be working, and so they do typically have more financial demands than the traditional student at a four-year institution," Petry said. "And so there is, I guess, a little more pressure for them to pick and choose between which bills to pay on a monthly basis."