States With the Most (and Least) Student Debt

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Austin, Texas
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35. Texas
> Avg. debt at graduation: $14,469
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 28.4% (24th lowest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $59,006 (25th lowest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 24.5% (16th lowest)

The average loan debt of a Texas college student at graduation is $14,469, less than the average debt load of $16,929 per student nationwide. Like in most of the country, students take on less debt at large state public universities. At Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin — which together account for roughly 18% of the 619,175 students enrolled in public Texas universities — students graduate with $10,439 and $11,661 in debt on average.

One reason for the light debt burden among Texas graduates is the large share of students who pay in-state tuition, as opposed to out-of-state. At the average public four-year university in Texas, in-state tuition is $14,560 cheaper than out-of-state tuition, roughly the same as the national premium. An estimated 91% of the Class of 2018 is comprised of Texas natives, the largest share in the country.

University Museum Fairbanks, Alaska
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34. Alaska
> Avg. debt at graduation: $14,544
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 29.7% (23rd highest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $74,592 (5th highest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 19.5% (7th lowest)

The average debt per student at graduation in Alaska is $14,544, less than the $16,929 national average. This is due largely to the relatively low public tuition in the state and the small share of students who take loans. The average tuition and fees at a four-year public university in the state is $7,130, far less than the $9,650 national average.

While Alaska has some of the least expensive higher education in the country, public tuition has increased at more than twice the rate nationwide over the past five years. This may be one reason for the 10.3% decline in enrollment at the University of Alaska Fairbanks over the same period, the third most of any state’s flagship school.

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Johns Hopkins, Maryland
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33. Maryland
> Avg. debt at graduation: $14,744
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 38.8% (3rd highest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $78,600 (2nd highest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 18.8% (6th lowest)

The average student loan debt of student leaving college in Maryland is $14,744, less than the $16,929 national figure. This is likely due to the relatively small share of Maryland students who take loans, which at 56% is less than most states. For many students who graduate with debt in Maryland, higher education is a worthwhile investment. Fewer than one in 10 indebted graduates in the state default on their loans within three years of leaving school, a smaller share than in most states.

Maryland residents are highly educated. An estimated 38.8% of adults in the state have at least a bachelor’s degree, the third highest share in the country. This may be partially due to the state’s large public university system. The University of Maryland, College Park had 25,272 students as of fall 2015, a larger enrollment than most state flagship schools.

Little Rock, Arkansas
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32. Arkansas
> Avg. debt at graduation: $14,821
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 21.8% (4th lowest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $46,682 (3rd lowest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 31.7% (12th highest)

In Arkansas, students leave college with $14,821 in debt on average, less than in most states. One reason for the small debt load is likely the cheap tuition in the state. The cost of tuition and fees at an average four-year public college in Arkansas is just $8,250, about $1,400 less than the national figure.

While tuition in Arkansas is lower than the national average, for many students the investment in higher education may not pay off immediately. For every 100 students in Arkansas who graduate with student loan debt, 14 default on their loans within three years of graduating, one of the highest default rates in the country.

Nashville Tennessee downtown skyline at Shelby Street Bridge
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31. Tennessee
> Avg. debt at graduation: $14,898
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 25.7% (11th lowest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $51,145 (9th lowest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 29.1% (22nd highest)

Per-student debt among recent graduates of colleges and universities in Tennessee is slightly less than $15,000, lower than in the majority of other states. Heavily subsidized tuition for in-state students at public schools partially explains the relatively small debt burden.
Out-of-state students pay an average of $16,000 more a year than in-state students at public four-year universities in Tennessee. The difference in tuition is even greater at the University of Tennessee, the largest school in the state. Out-of-state students pay slightly less than $31,000 a year, while annual tuition for in-state students is slightly less than $13,000. Across the state, however, just 26.7% of undergraduates are non-natives, a smaller share than in the majority of states. Nearly nine in 10 of the 28,000 undergraduates at the University of Tennessee are natives to the state.