States With the Most (and Least) Student Debt

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Downtown Boise Idaho just after sundown with Capital building
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15. Idaho
> Avg. debt at graduation: $18,228
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 26.0% (12th lowest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $52,163 (13th lowest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 34.9% (5th highest)

An estimated 71% of Idaho students leave college with some amount of loan debt, a larger share than in any state other than Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. While a large share of Idaho students take student loans, higher education in the state is among the least expensive in the country. Tuition and fees at the average four-year public school in the state is just $7,010, roughly $2,600 less than the national average. Like most of the country, however, tuition in Idaho is rising. The average cost to attend the University of Idaho, one of the largest universities in the state, rose by 15.9% in the five years since the 2011-2012 school year.

Cedar Rapids City Hall, Iowa
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14. Iowa
> Avg. debt at graduation: $19,064
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 26.8% (17th lowest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $60,791 (22nd highest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 31.4% (14th highest)

The average cost of attending a public four-year university in Iowa is $8,270 annually, roughly $1,400 less expensive than the average cost nationwide. Despite the low tuition and fees, nearly two-thirds of Iowa graduates leave school in debt, one of the highest shares of any state. To help curb the large share of indebted students in Iowa, the state’s Board of Regents consecutively voted to freeze tuition starting at the 2012-13 school year until spring 2016. In the last five years, tuition in the state’s public four-year universities has risen just 2.7%, less than one-third increase in tuition nationwide. The board recently voted to unfreeze tuition, however, and may vote to increase the cost of attendance in the near future. The average debt per recent graduate debt of $19,064 is currently higher than in most states — and may continue to rise.

Princeton Chapel, New Jersey
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13. New Jersey
> Avg. debt at graduation: $19,242
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 37.6% (5th highest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $77,039 (4th highest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 25.0% (20th lowest)

The average cost of tuition and fees at a public four-year university for in-state students in New Jersey is $13,280, higher than in any state other than Pennsylvania, Vermont, and New Hampshire. The high price of higher education in the state may explain the large share of students taking on debt, which at 66% of the class of 2015 is one of the largest in the country.

Costly tuition likely deters many of New Jersey’s college-bound seniors from attending school in the state. With a net loss of more than 27,000 students who left the state to go to school in other parts of the country in the most recent Fall semester, New Jersey has the largest outbound migration of college students in the country. To prevent the brain drain, both universities and state lawmakers are making efforts to make college more affordable. The state’s largest school, Rutgers University, instituted a program that provides free tuition to students from low income families. Enrollment at the school has risen 12% over the past five years.

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Statue of Liberty, New York
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12. New York
> Avg. debt at graduation: $19,317
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 35.0% (9th highest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $67,199 (14th highest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 28.7% (24th highest)

Upon graduation, New York students owe $19,317, on average, in college loans. The state’s public schools, which include the substantial State University of New York network of colleges and universities, do not appear to be driving the high average debt in state. The average New York native attending a public four-year school in the state pays just $7,710 in tuition and fees, about $2,000 lower than the average tuition of $9,650 nationwide.

In 12 of the 15 states with the most college debt, at least 66% of students graduate with some amount of debt. In New York, however, just 59% graduate with debt. Some of New York’s expensive private schools may be driving up the state’s average. Columbia University in New York City, which has about 6,100 undergraduates enrolled, costs an average of $55,056 in tuition and fees. The state is home to another dozen or so colleges and universities with average annual tuition and fees of at least $50,000.

Illinois Campus
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11. Illinois
> Avg. debt at graduation: $19,374
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 32.9% (12th highest)
> Median household income, ages 25-44: $64,062 (18th highest)
> Avg. debt as share of median household income: 30.2% (17th highest)

The average Illinois college student has more than $19,000 in debt upon graduation. Nearly 75% of Illinois’ postsecondary students are state natives, one of the highest such shares of all states.

Despite the relatively many local students and the discounts for in-state students, Illinois natives still spend more on average than local students do in most states. The average four-year public school Illinois native pays $13,280 annually in tuition and fees, the fifth most of any state. The average tuition at the state’s largest public university, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is $15,698 for in-state students, among the most for major state schools.