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Student loan forgiveness will have an outsized impact in the Mountain West

President Biden speaks behind a podium.
Prachatai / Flickr Creative Commons

A substantial percentage of people in the Mountain West with student loans will have up to $20,000 in student loan debt forgiven following a recent announcement from the Biden Administration.

Nearly 38 percent of Wyoming borrowers will be completely student loan-free due to this forgiveness initiative, according to a recent analysis by Student Loan Hero, a student loan management company owned by Lending Tree.

That’s the highest share in the country, and Nevada and Utah aren’t far behind.

President Joe Biden said last month that he hopes to make it easier for middle and working class folks to build a career without a massive financial burden.

“The cost of education beyond high school has gone up significantly. The total cost to attend a public four year university has tripled, nearly tripled, in 40 years,” he said.

Most borrowers will get $10,000 forgiven, while recipients of the Pell Grant, which are awarded to low-income students, will get $20,000. Only individuals making less than $125,000 a year, or $250,000 for married couples, are eligible.

The analysis shows that most Mountain West states have on average fewer people who take out loans, and those students tend to choose schools that are less costly. Therefore, canceling $10,000 of debt makes a greater impact and leads to more people emerging debt-free.

"That said, even in these top-of-the-list states, the average debt is still significant," Student Loan Hero states. "For example, our analysis of Utah student loans shows average balances among federal and private borrowers of $31,046. Our data on Nevada student loans yields average balances of $32,402."

Several Republican officials in the region have been critical of Biden’s announcement, saying it’s a federal handout that doesn’t solve high education costs.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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