The Best Colleges In America .. And The Amount Of Debt They Leave Students In (PHOTOS)

Three days before U.S. News and World Report's annual rankings of America's best colleges were released, the Education Department posted a report (PDF) in stark contrast -- a database listing the debt loads and repayment figures of thousands of schools across the nation.

Unsurprisingly, for-profit colleges emerged as the foremost culprits of massive student debt: The University of Phoenix's total student debt load is almost $5 billion; Nova Southeastern University barely trails it with $1.1 billion. But then there's New York University in fourth: the school's graduates combined are $659 million in debt; the average student leaves college $28,649 in the red (as Gawker points out, NYU's total debt is more than the GDP of 12 countries).

Columbia University professor (and Huffington Post blogger) Justin Snider further distills the government's data in a recent post:

Predictably, few public institutions populate the list of schools that graduate students knee-deep in debt. (Exceptions include the University of North Dakota, Kentucky State University and the Maine Maritime Academy, where more than two-thirds of graduates left school with an average of about $35,000 in debt.) Private, nonprofit schools as well as for-profit schools dominate the list of students graduating with crushing debt.

But there is some good news, too. A handful of institutions do an enviable job of getting their graduates out the door with little or no debt, and it turns out there's a fairly strong correlation between highly ranked schools and schools whose graduates owe almost nothing. But a confounding factor, of course, is that more affluent students tend to attend these institutions in the first place, so it's little wonder they can graduate almost debt-free.

In the below list, we looked at the average debt loads of students coming from U.S. News' top national universities and liberal arts colleges and re-ranked them according to the amount of individual federal debt a student faces when entering repayment. Also listed is the total debt balance of the school's students -- graduate and undergraduate, where applicable -- and the school's U.S. News ranking.

What do you think of the rejiggered list? Are the best schools worth the cost? Join the discussion in the comments section.

The Best Colleges with the WORST DEBT (PHOTOS)