The average senior graduating college in 2011 owed $26,600 in student debt, up 5% from the year before. According to a new report, published by higher education nonprofit The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), roughly two-thirds of the 2011 class had some amount of student debt.
Because tuition varies widely between the states, the location of the school can predict how much a student will owe. In Utah, average student debt for the class of 2011 was just $17,227. In New Hampshire, it was $32,440. Based on TICAS' Student Debt and the Class of 2011 report, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 states where students had the most debt.
Most of the states with higher average student debt were located in the Northeast, which tends to have more students enroll in more expensive private institutions. Six of the 10 worst-off states were in the area.
In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., TICAS president Lauren Asher explained that the final price of college includes far more than tuition and fees. Students also incur costs for things like meals, transportation and books. As a result, for many of the states with the most student debt, these costs of living are often higher than the national average. This is another reason states in the Northeast tend to have more student debt.
The costs of attending state universities and colleges, where the vast majority of students in the United States go, are rising too. Schools have been forced to raise tuition as states cut their higher education budgets. In Texas, Governor Rick Perry has called for a four-year tuition freeze for state schools in light of the hikes. Public colleges and universities in other states are offering to do the same voluntarily -- if they are compensated with additional funds from the government.
The type of loan students take out, Asher said, also determines the long-term costs of college. For the class of 2011, roughly a fifth of all student loan dollars were from private loan companies. These, Asher explained, have much higher interest rates and are harder to manage and pay off that federal government loans. "You're really at the mercy of your lender if you hit hard times and you have a private loan." At some of the schools in the states on our list, more than 40% of students had debt through private lenders.
Based on the report "Student Debt and the Class of 2011," published recently by The Institute for College Access & Success, 24/7 Wall St. determined the 10 states in which college graduates had the highest levels of student debt. TICAS also provided data on the schools where graduates had the most debt, the percentage of students who owed money, and whom they borrowed from. We also considered data on educational attainment, median annual earnings and median income from the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as unemployment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
These are the states with the most student debt.
> Average student debt: $27,500
> Pct. with student debt: 63% (tied-20th highest)
> Pct. adults with bachelor's degrees: 23.0% (8th lowest)
> Median household income: $46,438 (20th lowest)
Just 23% of adults in Indiana had a college degree in 2011, one of the lowest rates among all states in the nation. And those who attended college often faced high levels of debt and poor job prospects. Last year, the unemployment rate in Indiana for ages 20 to 24 was 16.2%, one of the higher rates in the nation for that age group. And with a median earnings for an adult with a bachelor's degree more than $4,000 lower than the national median, even graduates who found work were likely to be paid less compared to their peers nationally. Graduates from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology faced the highest amount of student debt in the state, owing an average of more than $42,000 last year.
9. New Jersey
> Average student debt: $27,610
> Pct. with student debt: 64% (tied for 15th highest)
> Pct. adults with bachelor's degrees: 35.3% (6th highest)
> Median household income: $67,458 (3rd highest)
The average debt load of 2011 graduates in New Jersey was a whopping 68% higher than those who graduated in 2005, the highest increase among all states. Students attending Centenary College held the most debt at graduation in the state, owing an average of $40,588 to lenders. Seniors at other schools fared better. Only 24% of 2011 Princeton graduates owed money to lenders at graduation, with the average student owing just $5,330, despite total cost of attendance totaling $52,715 a year for the 2010-2011 academic year. The university replaced student loans with grants back in 2001, becoming the first university in the country to do so.
> Average student debt: $28,273
> Pct. with student debt: 63% (tied for 20th highest)
> Pct. adults with bachelor's degrees: 35.4% (5th highest)
> Median household income: $52,776 (19th highest)
College graduates living in Vermont were among the lowest paid in the nation. In 2011, the median annual earnings for adults with bachelor's degrees was just $37,995 -- more than $10,000 below the national median for that group. The state is one of the nation's most educated, with 35.4% of adults holding at least a bachelor's degree, but it is also one of its most heavily indebted. The average student debt remained almost unchanged in the past year, while the percentage of graduates with student loans fell by three percentage points. Graduates of Green Mountain College faced especially high levels of debt as the average graduate from the class of 2011 owed more than $42,000, 39% of which was riskier, nonfederal debt.
> Average student debt: $28,683
> Pct. with student debt: 68% (9th highest)
> Pct. adults with bachelor's degrees: 24.7% (13th lowest)
> Median household income: $45,749 (16th lowest)
Between 2005 and 2011, the average college debt for Ohio students rose 49%, the eighth-highest rate of growth across the country. Students of Ashland University who graduated in 2011 had the most debt of all institutions, with 79% of students owing an average of $39,399. Of that debt, 45% was from private lenders. Some public college students packed on the debt, too. Four in five 2011 graduates of Bowling Green State University faced an average debt load of $33,083. Meanwhile, 58% of graduates of the state's largest public institution, Ohio State University, had an average debt of $24,840.
> Average student debt: $28,753
> Pct. with student debt: 72% (4th highest)
> Pct. adults with bachelor's degrees: 25.8% (18th lowest)
> Median household income: $49,427 (24th highest
Last year, 72% of the graduates from Iowa colleges and universities had student debt. Unfortunately for graduates of Iowa schools, the state does not pay adults with a college degree very well. An adult with a bachelor's degree earned a median of $42,380 in 2011, or nearly $6,000 less than the national median. On the bright side, the unemployment rate among the 20- to 24-year-olds in Iowa was just 11.4%, one of the lower rates in the United States. According to the office of Federal Student Aid at the Department of Education, students in Iowa had a default rate of 11.6% on their student loans through fiscal 2010 -- the most recently available year for data. This was the fourth-highest default rate in the nation.
> Average student debt: $28,783
> Pct. with student debt: 64% (tied for 15th highest)
> Pct. adults with bachelor's degrees: 36.2% (4th highest)
> Median household income: $65,753 (4th highest)
Graduates of Connecticut universities in 2011 faced an average of 13% more debt, or nearly $3,500 worth, than those who graduated in 2010 from the state. This increase was the sixth-highest among all states. Sixty-three percent of 2011 graduates of the University of Connecticut faced an average debt load of $23,822. But prospective UConn students looking for a reprieve should not hold their breath. In Dec. 2011, the university's trustees approved a four-year tuition hike to make up for declining state funding. Starting with a 6% increase for the current academic year, tuition is expected to increase by more than 6% every year through the 2016-2017 academic year.
4. Rhode Island
> Average student debt: $29,097
> Pct. with student debt: 69% (8th highest)
> Pct. adults with bachelor's degrees: 31.1% (12th highest)
> Median household income: $53,636 (17th highest)
The average 2011 graduate from a Rhode Island college or university owed $29,097 in student debt, up more than 10% from the year before. Debt burdens were especially high for graduates of Salve Regina University -- labeled a "high debt college" by TICAS -- whose class of 2011 had an average of $43,237 in debt. Graduates of two other private schools, Bryant University and Roger Williams University, averaged more than $37,000 in debt. Students at all three universities owed at least 38% of this debt to nonfederal government sources, such as banks. There are some benefits to going to school in the state, however. At $50,327 per year, 2011 median earnings were higher for adult college graduates in Rhode Island than in more than 35 other states.
> Average student debt: $29,793
> Pct. with student debt:71% (5th highest)
> Pct. adults with bachelor's degrees: 32.4% (10th highest)
> Median household income: $56,954 (11th highest)
Minnesota is just one of six states where more than 70% of graduates in 2011 had outstanding student loans. More than three in four 2011 graduates of Winona State University, a public university, faced debt, which averaged $31,275. Almost the same percentage of students graduating from University of Minnesota-Duluth faced an average debt load of $31,168. But those graduates were on better footing compared to graduates of the private Minneapolis College of Art and Design. In this school, 85% of 2011 graduates finished their studies $43,035 in the hole, on average, with 40% of that debt in the form of private loans.
> Average student debt: $29,959
> Pct. with student debt: 70% (7th highest)
> Pct. adults with bachelor's degrees: 27.0% (24th highest)
> Median household income: $50,228 (23rd highest)
The average 2011 graduate in Pennsylvania finished college nearly $30,000 in debt, more than $3,000 above the U.S. student loan debt average of $26,600 and more than $1,000 more than the average 2010 graduate. In Pennsylvania State University the average student graduating in 2011 had $33,530 in debt. At Robert Morris University, the average graduate had $42,477 in student debt. In last year's class, 70% of graduates had outstanding loans. At several schools, including Gannon University and Lycoming College, more than 90% of graduates had student loan debt.
1. New Hampshire
> Average student debt: $32,440
> Pct. with student debt: 75% (3rd highest)
> Pct. adults with bachelor's degrees: 33.4% (8th highest)
> Median household income: $62,647 (6th highest
New Hampshire is the only state where its 2011 graduates had more than $30,000 in average student loan debt. Eight in 10 students who graduated from the University of New Hampshire faced an average debt haul of $34,194. Despite the high level of debt, tuition continues to climb. The trustees voted to increase total costs by 6% after the school system lost nearly half of its roughly $100 million state funding in 2011. Despite the high level of debt for the recent UNH attendees, some private school graduates fared even worse. For instance, 85% of 2011 graduates from New England College had an average debt of $43,808, while 81% of Franklin Pierce College graduates were in the hole by an average of $44,702.
By Michael B. Sauter, Alexander E. M. Hess and Samuel Weigley