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Students in the class of 2013 who took out loans to attend public and private nonprofit colleges graduated with an average of debt of $28,400, a 2 percent increase from the previous year, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Institute for College Access and Success.

About 70 percent of graduates had student loans, the report says, but the amount they owed varied widely across different institutions and states.

Six states -- New Hampshire, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and Connecticut -- had graduates with average student loan debt in excess of $30,000. At the other end of the spectrum, New Mexico and California, at $18,656 and $20,340, respectively, were the states with the lowest average student loan debt.

Debbie Cochrane, research director at TICAS, who co-wrote the report, pointed to state funding of higher education as a factor in the varying state debt levels.

“Graduates from New Hampshire colleges are almost twice as likely as Nevada graduates to leave school with student loan debt, and they owe almost twice as much as graduates from New Mexico colleges,” she said in a statement. “The importance of state policy and investment cannot be overstated when it comes to student debt levels.”

At the intuitional level, the average student debt levels varied from $2,250 to $71,350 for 2013 graduates at the colleges for which data were available. TICAS found that at nearly one in five institutions, average debt rose at least 10 percent between 2012 and 2013. Meanwhile, at only 7 percent of colleges reporting debt information did student debt levels decrease by 10 percent or more.

Nationally, TICAS estimated the average student loan debt again ticked up this year to $28,400. 

The group’s estimate of the national student debt average is based on its analysis of data that colleges voluntarily provide to Peterson's, the college guide producer, in combination with federal data published every four years. It also reflects only public and nonprofit institutions that grant bachelor’s degrees. For-profit colleges were not included because only a small fraction of those institutions voluntarily report debt figures.

TICAS and other many other groups have long pushed the federal government to collect and publish better data about student debt. In this year’s report, TICAS highlights some of the challenges of relying on data that colleges provide voluntarily. Aside from the fact that many institutions simply don’t provide the data, some colleges report large swings from year-to-year or provide inconsistent information, the group said. 

The TICAS report reflects only the money that students graduating in 2013 borrowed. It does not necessarily indicate how costly it was for students to attend college or the actual prices they paid. As a result, the report is not comparable to another annual study, published separately on Thursday by the College Board that documents trends in college prices and student aid.

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