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Students' Debt Loads Increase Again

October 18, 2012

Students in the class of 2011 who took out loans graduated with an average of $26,600 in debt, a 5 percent increase from last year, according to a report released today by the Institute for College Access and Success examining student debt at four-year public and private nonprofit colleges.

The report, which is based on information that colleges report to Peterson’s college guide as part of an annual survey, is among the more complete sources of information on debt for traditional college students. It found that debt had increased in nearly every state, although national trends remained stable from previous years and the amount of debt students take on varies significantly by state.

Debt over all increased $1,350 from last year, and the percentage of students at four-year colleges who took out loans -- 66 percent -- remained stable, according to the report.

The highest-debt states were New Hampshire, where 75 percent of students borrowed and took on an average of $32,440 in loans, and Pennsylvania and Minnesota, where loans averaged just under $30,000. The University of New Hampshire’s main campus was also among the highest-debt public colleges.

Average debt per student increased by $3,000 or more over the past year in several states, including Connecticut, Georgia, Nebraska, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. Debt fell slightly in a few states, including Iowa, Louisiana, New York and Maine, which was among the highest debt states last year but fell off the list in 2010.

The report leaves out students at for-profit colleges, whose debt -- and ability to repay it -- has been a hot topic in recent years. The report includes only about 55 percent of private and nonprofit colleges, because others either do not respond to the student debt questions on the survey or did not respond to the survey at all.) The report’s authors noted that 12 percent of colleges that reported student loan information in 2010 did not in 2011. “Colleges that accurately calculate and report each year’s debt figures rightfully complain that other colleges may have students with higher average debt but fail to update their figures, under-report actual debt levels, or never report figures at all,” the authors wrote.

The group also ranks colleges by their students’ debt loads, and noted that some of the colleges where students graduate with the least debt have very high sticker prices, including Princeton and Yale Universities, as well as Williams College and Pomona College, but generous endowments and relatively few low-income students.

In recommendations following the report, the group praised several new initiatives from the Obama administration, including the financial aid shopping sheet and net price calculators, but called on the Education Department to collect data about debt per student at graduation. (The department collects information on total federal loans.)

 

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