Only 1 State's College Students Graduate With Less Than $20,000 Of Debt, Report Finds


New Mexico is the only state where the average college student has less than $20,000 of debt when she graduates, a report released Thursday shows.

For the class of 2013, seven out of 10 college students nationwide carried some form of education debt when they graduated, according to the ninth annual Project on Student Debt report from the Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), a nonprofit organization. The average graduate was $28,400 in the red, the report says. In six states, students graduated with an average of more than $30,000 in education debt, and only New Mexico grads came in below the $20K mark, with an average of $18,656 in school debt.

New Hampshire, Delaware and Pennsylvania had the highest average student debt loads at $32,795, $32,571 and $32,528, respectively. Pennsylvania and New Hampshire also have the most expensive public colleges in the country, according to Department of Education figures.

California had the second-lowest average student debt behind New Mexico, with the average Golden State grad owing $20,340, according to Thursday's report.

"As more students borrow, and borrow more," the report states, "concerns about the effects of student loan debt -- for individuals and the broader economy -- have risen."

"High student loan debt, risky private loans, and even low debt when paired with low earnings, can hold borrowers back from starting a family, buying a home, saving for retirement, starting a business, or saving for their own children's education," the report continues.

For-profit colleges were not included in the analysis because out of the 595 proprietary, four-year degree institutions queried for the study, only eight agreed to report debt figures for their 2013 graduates. The report says that of the public and nonprofit private bachelor's degree-granting colleges the researchers contacted, 57 percent agreed to provide data for the analysis.

Private student loans currently account for about $150 billion of the outstanding $1.2 trillion in student loan debt nationwide, or about 12 percent of overall education debt. However, nearly 20 percent of the class of 2013 had private student loans, the Project on Student Debt found -- suggesting that the prevalence of such loans could be on the rise.

The private student debt load is important to look at, the report says, because those loans often have higher interest rates and offer little if any recourse for borrowers who struggle with high payments. Unlike government loans, private student loans come with no options for income-based repayment or loan forgiveness.

“Where you go to college matters, and the kind of loans you have matter, too," said Lauren Asher, president of TICAS. "Federal student loans come with crucial consumer protections like income-based repayment plans, while private loans offer little or no relief if you hit a rough patch."

Delaware - $33,649

States With Highest Average Student Debt - TICAS - Class Of 2012

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