States With the Most (and Least) Student Debt

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Pierre, South Dakota State Capitol
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5. South Dakota
> Avg. debt at graduation: $21,298
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 27.5% (18th lowest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $59,249 (25th highest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 35.9% (4th highest)

State college and university systems tend to be less expensive than private postsecondary institutions, and this is no different in South Dakota. The typical four-year private school in the state charges $8,140 for in-state students. The system also has the smallest premiums for our-of-state students. Undergraduate enrollees at a University of South Dakota school from outside of the state only pay an average of $11,470, a difference of $3,330. In contrast, out-of-state students nationwide spend $15,280 more on average than in-state students.

Even with relatively inexpensive public schools, students across the state are more likely to have debt, and those with debt tend to have more of it than most states. Of those who graduated from a South Dakota school in 2015, 73% had debt, the second highest share in the country.

University Building in Winona Minnesota
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4. Minnesota
> Avg. debt at graduation: $21,744
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 34.7% (10th highest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $71,122 (9th highest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 30.6% (16th highest)

Those who graduate from college or university in Minnesota have an average of $21,744 in debt, more than in all but a handful of states. When excluding the students with zero debt upon graduation, the average debt is nearly $10,000 higher. Not only is the average per-student debt higher, but more students in the state are likely to have debt. Seven in 10 students who completed school in 2015 had debt, the fifth highest share of any state.

However, while Minnesota’s students tend to graduate with a large amount of debt, most are able to pay it off without getting into financial trouble. Just 8.8% of Minnesota’s class of 2013 who had debt defaulted on their student loans within the first three years, less than the 11.3% of all U.S. students with debt who did.

Yale, New Haven, Connecticut
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3. Connecticut
> Avg. debt at graduation: $21,805
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 38.3% (4th highest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $73,328 (7th highest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 29.7% (19th highest)

The premium paid by out-of-state students in Connecticut, who make up a relatively high share of all students compared with other states, helps explain the state’s third highest average debt at graduation. For state residents attending a four-year public university in the state the average tuition of $11,730 is just slightly higher than the national average in-state tuition of $9,650. For out-of-state students, however, the comparable tuition is $31,580, the third highest of all states.

Penn State University, Old Main, State College, Pennsylvania
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2. Pennsylvania
> Avg. debt at graduation: $24,172
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 29.7% (23rd highest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $63,547 (20th highest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 38.0% (3rd highest)

The near-nation leading average per-student debt in Pennsylvania could be partially due to relatively high tuitions at state universities. The average in-state tuition for a student at a four-year state public college is $13,880, the third highest in-state tuition of all states. The high proportion of students who take on student debt, at 71%, also drives up the average debt load across all graduates.

Not all graduates of Pennsylvania’s university system tend to have large student debt. Graduates of the University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore College, and Haverford College, for example, leave with less than $10,000 in debt on average. However, of the nearly 100 postsecondary institutions reviewed in Pennsylvania, these institutions are unusual.

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Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire
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1. New Hampshire
> Avg. debt at graduation: $25,740
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 35.7% (8th highest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $77,046 (3rd highest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 33.4% (9th highest)

Students who graduate from college in New Hampshire tend to have more debt than their peers in every other state. The average debt at graduation of $25,740 is well above the national average of $16,929 per student. Students of New Hampshire’s university system are also the most likely in the nation to borrow money for their education. More than three in every four students had loan debt at graduation. While this certainly drives up the average per-student debt, the average debt among only those students who borrowed, at $36,101, is also the highest in the country. This means that compared to other states, not only are students in New Hampshire more likely to borrow, but also they tend to borrow more.