BOISE -- It takes a lot of money to attend one of Idaho's public colleges or universities. The average annual cost of in-state tuition and fees at Idaho's colleges and universities is $5,953, according Next Steps Idaho, and that doesn't account for books and room and board. No wonder 71% of graduates in Idaho in 2015 had a student loan debt that averaged $27,639.
Seven years ago, Whitney Hansen found herself $30,000 in debt after graduating from Boise State.
"I did what I thought was normal and took out student loans not really paying attention to how much I had accumulated," said Hansen.
The Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, a non-profit, non-partisan organization, calls the growing debt load for many students combined with steeply rising tuition and fees, and higher barriers to attending college for middle and low-income Idahoans a threat to Idaho's economy. The threat, they say, comes at a time when employers are demanding a more educated workforce.
Hansen graduated with a bachelor's degree in accounting. The college grad worked two jobs to pay off her $30,000 debt. She worked as a staff accountant for a firm in Meridian and as a nail tech doing manicures and pedicures.
"So I was working 70 to 80 hours a week, no days off," said Hansen.
"And it sucked. It wasn't fun."
But in just 10 months, Hansen paid off her $30,000 debt.
"It was also a lot of sacrifice in the sense that I didn't eat out once during that time," said Hansen.
"No Starbucks, which is really hard for me. There was no coffee, there was nothing. But between that and living on a very small budget I was able to pay off the entire $30,000 in just 10 months."
She has clients all over the world, along with students back at home who are in the same boat she was in.
"Tons of students," said Hansen.
41% of public high school students in Idaho are economically disadvantaged, with little or no ability to squeeze out the extra dollars for college. And with the state investing less per student in higher education, according to the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, students and their families are shouldering a growing share of the expenses. Many students face a tough choice: get a degree and take on an enormous debt or not attend college at all.
More than a year ago, Boise State caught wind of Hansen's work and offered her a job, realizing the need for more personal finance education. Her class, one of the fastest growing classes in the College of Innovation and Design, helping students balance their books and balance their lives.
"We're getting back to the basics again because that's where most people fail," said Hansen. "They're not living on a budget, there just not paying attention to the day-to-day expenses."
For more money tips from Whitney Hansen, visit her website at http://whitneyhansen.com/