States With the Most (and Least) Student Debt

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Tallahassee, Florida
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40. Florida
> Avg. debt at graduation: $12,836
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 28.4% (24th lowest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $51,873 (12th lowest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 24.7% (17th lowest)

Florida has some of the least expensive universities in the country. The average tuition at a public four-year college in the state is just $6,360, lower than in any state other than Wyoming. Cheap tuition is likely one reason why just 53% of Floridians graduate with debt, a smaller share than in the vast majority of states. The average Florida college student leaves school with approximately $12,800 in student debt, a much lighter debt load than the $16,929 average national figure.

While college is more affordable in Florida than in most of the country, educational attainment in the state is fairly average. An estimated 28.4% of Florida adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, a slightly smaller share than the 30.6% of Americans with similar educational attainment.

Birmingham, Alabama
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39. Alabama
> Avg. debt at graduation: $13,269
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 24.2% (8th lowest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $47,780 (5th lowest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 27.8% (24th lowest)

A little more than half of all graduates from colleges and universities in Alabama last year had unpaid student loans, one of the smallest shares in the country. With fewer students incurring debt, the state’s average per-student debt is among the lowest in the country.

As is the case in many states, Alabama’s public school system likely drives down per-student debt. Students at public schools tend to graduate with a smaller debt burden than students at private schools. Some of the state’s largest schools are public, including the University of Alabama, which, with close to 30,000 full-time undergraduates enrolled, is one of the largest in the country. Less than half of UA’s students graduate with debt, and, as is the case with many state universities, in-state students are charged far less tuition than out-of-state students.

CU Boulder Campus
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38. Colorado
> Avg. debt at graduation: $13,947
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 39.2% (2nd highest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $70,032 (13th highest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 19.9% (8th lowest)

The average Colorado college student leaves school with roughly $14,000 in debt, approximately $3,000 less than the average student nationwide. Like most of the country, students with some of the lightest debt burdens in Colorado were educated at the state’s large, public universities. The average debt per graduating student at University of Colorado Boulder, for example, is $11,266.

The rising cost of attending college has led to rising student debt levels across the country. The average tuition at a four-year public university in Colorado has risen by 22.3% since the 2011-2012 school year, one of the sharpest increases in the country.

Seattle, Washington
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37. Washington
> Avg. debt at graduation: $14,057
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 34.2% (11th highest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $70,463 (11th highest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 19.9% (9th lowest)

Students leave Washington colleges and universities with an average of $14,057 in debt, which is about $2,900 less than the average debt per student across the United States. Students may have even less debt now than they did a few years ago. The cost of college has been on the rise in recent years. In just the last five years, average in-state public tuition increased by 9.4%. In Washington, however, tuition fell by 8.4%, one of just three states in which average public tuition declined — and by far the largest such drop. At the state’s largest public institution, the University of Washington — which has more than 31,000 undergraduates enrolled — in-state tuition fell from $11,532 to $10,753 over the last five years ending with the current school year.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Orange County
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36. North Carolina
> Avg. debt at graduation: $14,057
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 29.4% (25th highest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $51,244 (10th lowest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 27.4% (23rd lowest)

As is generally the case in other states, alumni of North Carolina’s largest public universities are among the least debt-ridden college graduates in the state. The average loan debt of a student at graduation from North Carolina State University is $9,604 and from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill it is $8,252, each far less than the statewide average debt per student of $14,057.

Additionally, North Carolina’s largest and most prestigious private college is among the most affordable. While a year at Duke University costs an estimated $63,273, roughly half of all students receive financial aid with an average grant of $42,345. Students leave Duke with just $6,686 in debt on average, among the least of any school in the country.