States With the Most (and Least) Student Debt

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University of Hawaii
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45. Hawaii
> Avg. debt at graduation: $11,792
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 31.4% (18th highest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $74,003 (6th highest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 15.9% (4th lowest)

Approximately half of recent college graduates in Hawaii left school with student loan debt, nearly the lowest proportion of all states. With such a large share of students leaving school debt-free, the average graduate in Hawaii has just $11,792 in student loan debt, far lower than the national average of $16,929 for students across the country.

While students typically pay less at public institutions than private universities, students who choose to attend a public school outside of their home state still face high tuition and fees. This is especially the case in Hawaii, where the average out-of-state student at a public four-year university pays $20,120 more than the average in-state student, the third largest premium of any state.

Rio Rancho with Sandia Mountains, New Mexico
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44. New Mexico
> Avg. debt at graduation: $11,829
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 26.5% (14th lowest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $47,383 (4th lowest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 25.0% (19th lowest)

The average debt of a New Mexico college student is approximately $12,000 at graduation, far less than the $17,000 in debt the average American student accumulates as an undergraduate. One reason for the smaller debt load is the relatively inexpensive cost of college in the state. The average in-state tuition at a public four-year university in New Mexico is $6,620, lower than in all but four other other states.

Despite the relatively small debt load, college is still a substantial expense compared to the average earnings of New Mexico residents. The typical home led by a householder between 25 and 44 years old earns just $47,383 a year, the third least of any state. On average, student debt at graduation in New Mexico accounts for 25.0% of median annual household income for 25 to 44 year olds, not far from the 27.8% national figure.

Phoenix Arizona
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43. Arizona
> Avg. debt at graduation: $12,200
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 27.7% (19th lowest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $55,510 (19th lowest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 22.0% (11th lowest)

The average undergraduate in Arizona leaves school with $12,200 in student debt, one of the smallest debt loads in the country. Of schools reviewed in the state, students accumulate the least amount of debt at the University of Arizona. Graduates of the University of Arizona leave school with $10,590 in student debt on average, roughly $1,600 less than the state average.

Like in most of the country, students in Arizona are more likely to accumulate debt at private universities. At the private schools Prescott College and Arizona Christian University, the average student graduates with more than $18,000 in debt. Similarly, more than two thirds of all students at the two private schools have some form of student debt by graduation compared to less than half of recent graduates from the public University of Arizona.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
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42. Oklahoma
> Avg. debt at graduation: $12,549
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 24.6% (9th lowest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $52,768 (14th lowest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 23.8% (15th lowest)

The average debt burden of a student graduating from a college or university in Oklahoma is $12,549, lower than in all but a handful of other states. While Oklahoma students pay among the least of any state for higher education, the cost of attendance is on the rise. The average tuition at a four-year public school in the state rose from $6,467 in 2011-12 to $8,030 for the 2016-17 school year. The 24.1% increase was the fourth largest tuition hike of any state.

One explanation for Oklahoma’s low average student debt comes from the fact that so few students actually have debt at all. Upon graduation, barely over half of the class of 2015 had debt, the eighth smallest share of any state.

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Los Angeles County, California
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41. California
> Avg. debt at graduation: $12,554
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 32.3% (14th highest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $67,122 (15th highest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 18.7% (5th lowest)

The average debt of college graduates in California is only $12,554, well below the corresponding debt burden in the majority of states. Average debt ranges widely across the state, and is closely tied to the share of graduates who relied on loans. Only 22% of Stanford alumni graduated with any debt, and partially as a result, the average per student debt at the University is only $4,672, the lowest of all 83 schools reviewed in the state.

California is home to an extensive public university system. The University of California system spans 10 campuses, currently enrolls 238,700 students, and has over 1.7 million alumni. More than two-thirds of students get some form of financial aid.