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Student Loan Mania: College Debt Still on the Rise

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Just last month the U.S. Department of Education reported that the default rate on student loans has climbed to nearly 7% and student loan statistics are making headlines yet again.

According to Student Debt and the Class of 2009, a report released by the Project on Student Debt on October 21, 2010, college seniors that graduated in 2009 owed an average of $24,000 in student loan debt—a 6% increase from the year before.

Their findings are based on an annual analysis of student loan debt at more than 1,000 public and private not-for-profit four-year colleges and universities. For-profit colleges were not included in the report because most don’t provide the necessary data. However, students at for-profit schools are typically more likely to borrow than students at other institutions and they often borrow money in larger amounts.

Additionally, paying these students loans back is likely to be difficult for recent graduates because the unemployment rate for college graduates between the ages of 20 and 24 was 8.7 percent in 2009, a considerable rise from 5.8 percent in 2008 and the highest annual rate on record.

The Project on Student Debt

The Project on Student Debt is an initiative of the Institute for College Access & Success, a nonprofit independent research and policy organization dedicated to making college more available and affordable to people of all backgrounds.

The Project’s mission is to increase public understanding of this trend and the implications for our families, economy, and society because student loans play a role in making college possible for many people. Their main goal is to identify cost-effective solutions that can expand educational opportunity, protect family financial security and advance economic competitiveness.

Only 1,065 of the 1,913 public and private nonprofit colleges in the U.S. provided complete student debt data to the Project on Student Debt.

“This report shows that debt levels vary widely— not only from state-to-state but also from college-to-college, even when the sticker prices look the same,” are the words of Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access & Success.

Highest Levels of Student Loan Debt Mainly in the Northeast

Last year, student loan debt throughout the United States ranged from $13,000 to $30,000. The highest amounts of debt were found mainly in the Northeast while the lowest levels of debt were concentrated in the West.

Among the schools which responded, students graduating in the District of Columbia and New Hampshire had the most student loan debt. The average debt among D.C. graduates was $30,033 and the average debt among New Hampshire graduates was $29,443.

Students in Utah and Georgia had the lowest average debt: $12,860 and $16,568 respectively. As detailed in the report, the actual state averages for student debt are likely higher than these estimates, which are based on data reported voluntarily by public and private nonprofit four-year colleges.

Most College Graduates Leave School with Student Loan Debt

Seventy-three colleges said more than 90% of the class of 2009 graduated with debt and it appears that most colleges provided students with extra financial aid to help them stay in school as the economy worsened. Even so, it is likely that the Class of 2009 took out the bulk of their student loans before the recession began.

Public schools with graduates who had the highest levels of debt last year include Alabama State University, Iowa State University and University of Maine. High-debt private nonprofit schools include American University, Florida Institute of Technology and Ohio Northern University.

Schools in the lowest average debt group included California Institute of Technology, Hampton University, CUNY Hunter College and Princeton University.

“With student debt rising and jobs hard to come by, it’s more important than ever to shop around when deciding where to go to college,” Asher emphasized.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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