College Student Debt Increases

Student Debt and the Class of 2009

The Project on Student Debt

This report, fifth in an annual series that examines cumulative debt accrued by recent graduates from public and nonprofit colleges, found that student loan debt for college seniors increased by 6 percent between 2008 and 2009. Those who received their diplomas in 2009 owed an average of $24,000 in loan debt.

The authors note that the increase was consistent with increases in previous years, and suggested that the recession probably had little effect, as most recent graduates obtained their loans before the economic downturn.

Debt levels varied widely among geographic regions. States in the Northeast tended to have the highest average debts, with the top levels reported in New Hampshire ($29,443) and Maine ($29,143). States in the West had the lowest levels, reaching as low as $12,860 in Utah. The authors suggest that the difference might be explained by the fact that most colleges in the Northeast charge higher tuition rates, while a larger number of students in the West attend public institutions.

The authors note that factors beyond tuition can affect debt levels, including the school’s financial aid resources, cost of living in the area, student demographics, and state policies.

The importance of the debt data is accentuated by another set of numbers in the report: the unemployment rate for recent college graduates (ages 20-24). In 2008, 5.8 percent of college graduates were unemployed, a number that increased to the highest rate on record, 8.7 percent, in 2009, the report says.

The report includes an interactive map with information from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., as well as data from a wide range of four-year schools.

The Project on Student Debt is run by the Institute for College Access and Success, which describes itself as a “nonprofit independent research and policy organization dedicated to making college more available and affordable to people of all backgrounds.”

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