71% Of Recent College Grads Owe Average Of $29K In Student Loans, Are Scared Pantsless About Paying It Off

The total of student loan debt in the U.S. has long since passed the $1 trillion mark, and a new report shows that this mountain of owed money is just going to keep getting bigger, while a recently released survey indicates just how terrified young adults are of folks’ ability to repay that debt.

According to the new study [PDF] by the Project on Student Debt at The Institute for College Access & Success, the graduating class of 2012 has a higher percentage of graduates leaving school with debt hanging on their backs, 71%, up from 68% in 2008. And during that same time period, the average amount of debt has increased an average of 6% per year, now standing at $29,400.

Recent college grads currently face relatively high levels of unemployment or underemployment, with 18.3% of young college graduates claiming to be unemployed, working fewer hours than they wanted, or that they had given up looking for a job. That said, the odds of finding employment are still higher for those with a college degree than for those with only a high school diploma.


According to the survey, students graduating from colleges in Delaware had the highest average debt in 2012, at $33,649. In fact, six of the ten states with the highest average student loan debt amounts were in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, while the remaining four are Midwestern and Great Lakes states.

On the other side of the rainbow and country is New Mexico, with the lowest average debt amount ($17,994). Again, there is some geographic clustering with Southwestern and Rocky Mountain states accounting for about half of the states on this second list. Washington, D.C., with its average debt of $22,106, is the only East Coast representative on the lower end of the debt scale.

In terms of which states have the highest percentage of graduates with student loan debt, South Dakota tops the list at 78%, followed by New Hampshire (74%), Iowa (71%), and Pennsylvania (70%).

While the state-to-state averages cover a pretty wide spread of $18K to $34K, the school-to-school comparisons are even more stark, ranging from averages of around $4,500 to nearly $50,000.

And though there is often some correlation between a school’s cost and the average amount of student debt, there are plenty of examples where that isn’t the case.

For example, Princeton University makes the list of low-debt schools because, in spite of the total annual cost of $53,934 to 2012 graduates, the average student loan debt held by the Ivy League school’s graduates was only $5,096. Of course, only about 24% of Princeton graduates took out student loans, as the school tends to attract both those who can afford to pay the steep tuition and those whose academic work earns them grants and scholarships.

Meanwhile, not far away at Rowan University, 34% of the graduates are leaving with an average of $35,027 in student loan debt at a school where the total annual cost to attend is half that of Princeton’s ($26,071).

TICAS has this pretty awesome interactive map that not only shows info for each state, but more granular information about costs and student loan debt averages for all the schools that reported this information in 2012.

Up at Harvard, where 1-in-4 grads leaves with an average of $13,098 in student loan debt, the school’s Institute of Politics has released the results of a new survey showing the mood of “millennials” that vaguely defined group of people between 18-29 that older folks tend to blame all the world’s ills on, what with their texting and rock music.

Among the questions posed by the IOP were a few about student loan debt, and the answers show that young whippersnappers are worried about this problem, regardless of their political affiliation.

First, 42% of respondents said they, or someone in their household, currently has student loan debt, and that 58% of college graduates responding to the survey said they still had debt to pay off.

More importantly, 78% of respondents said the issue of student loan debt is a problem for young people with 57% declaring it a “major” problem.

70% of millennials also say that their ability to pay for school was an important factor in choosing whether or not to attend college. This number is significantly higher (87%) for those in community colleges or 2-year programs.

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  1. TianaS says:

    My husband and I both went to Westminster College, which is a small private school in UT that charges way more than is reasonable (I think). By the time we graduated, we had about 100k in student debt combined. Yikes! It took us forever to pay off, and looking back, I wonder if it was worth it or if I could have gotten the same education elsewhere and still landed the same jobs.

    My college calls me every year and asks me to contribute to an alumni fund. I always laugh at them.

  2. CommonC3nts says:

    I had 30K in debt after college. I paid it off in 4.5 years which was last february.
    I had 3 job offers after college in 2008 when the economy was bad, but I was willing to move.
    The ability to pay off your debt is based on which major you choose.
    Choosing liberal arts = no job
    Choosing engineering = multiple job offers

    The government already tracks which jobs are in-demand on the onet.
    The ability to get government loans should be based on majors/jobs that are in demand. If you pick a major that stastics say wont get you a job then you should not be able to get loans.
    If someone wants to pick a not in-demand major then they should not get loans.

    • PhillyDom says:

      Are you willing to extend that idea to corporate welfare recipients, like banks, Wall Street, etc.?

      I thought not.

      • CommonC3nts says:

        I would rather just end the corporate welfare and pay down our national debts.
        Too bad neither democrats or republicans want to pay down our debt.

    • FusioptimaSX says:

      There was a more specific article somewhere (perhaps even on Consumerist!) that talked about the myths behind getting jobs with non STEM degrees, but here is something that relates to it:


      There is so much that one gets out of a college education. It’s really beyond the degree, it’s also life skills….really the stuff that they neglected to teach in high school.

      The job market is dynamic, so it’s impossible to assign differing loan amounts to differing majors. It also creates a complicated mess for those that change majors, regardless of reason.

      Either way, the way to go is with Federal Stafford loans, don’t even touch the banks and their private loans unless there is absolutely NO choice. The government backed loans have better programs to assist individuals in paying off student loan debt compared to the big banks.

      • CommonC3nts says:

        A degree has the most influence on if you get a job.
        Those with none STEM degrees basically end up gettting jobs outside of their degree if they are lucky.
        We should not risk giving loans to high risk majors where most likely the person can only get a cashier job at targer for minimum wage.

  3. PhillyDom says:

    Princeton, Harvard and the other Ivy League schools have “no loan” financial-aid policies for students whose family income is below a certain threshold, usually $50,000. Between that policy and the number of students whose family are wealthy enough to pay the full tab, the schools have few students who need to make loans.