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By Annie Wood
November 18, 2014
Caption : For 2013 grads, the average amount of student loan debt varied by state; only one state had an average student debt amount below $20,000.     

This time of year marks the beginning of student loan repayment for last spring’s college graduates. It is the time of year that offers most grads a financial reality check, and the Institute for College Access and Success, also known as Ticas, has offered another reality check on the cost of college.

The Washington D.C.-based think tank has just released a new report that examines state-by-state average student loan debt for the class of 2013. Ticas aimed to break down what the student debt national average (which is around $29,000) actually ends up looking like for students who live in different parts of the country.

Researchers at Ticas examined the average student debt amount for bachelor’s degrees in each state, using the most recently available data reported voluntarily by non-profit public and private institutions. The study, a part of the organization’s Project on Student Debt, did not include data from for-profit colleges, since basically all for-profit colleges choose to decline providing information on their graduates’ debt, probably because they would prefer to not to bring attention to their high costs and high debt.

Ticas found that 6 states have an average debt of over $30,000, and only one state has an average debt below $20,000. States with the highest average debt included New Hampshire with an average debt amount of $32,795, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and Connecticut.

New Mexico is the only state that has an average debt amount below under $20K, with $18,656. The other states with the lowest average student debt, according to Ticas’ research, include California, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Arizona, as well as Washington, D.C. Ticas also found geographic trends regarding debt—most of the highest debt states were in the Northeast and Midwest, and the lowest were in the West and South.

It is important to note when looking at highs and lows that lows can range from less than $2,700 to over $71,000 in debt among 2013 grads. The odds of graduating with any kind of loans ranged from 10 to 100 percent depending on the state and institution.

However, the trends are reflective of the impacts of differing state policies when it comes to higher education funding. There is a direct shift in states’ disinvestment in higher education and a rise in the net cost of college for students.

Debbie Cochrane, the research director of Ticas and co-author of the report “College Debt and the Class of 2013,” spoke to the significance of states’ higher education budgets in a recent press release.

“Graduates from New Hampshire colleges are almost twice as likely as Nevada graduates to leave school with student loan debt, and they owe almost twice as much as graduates from New Mexico colleges. The importance of state policy and investment cannot be overstated when it comes to student debt levels.”

Ticas recommends further research with a larger sample, since only 57 percent of public and private non-profit colleges provided data, representing 83 percent of college grads in these types of institutions.

However, the trends shown by Ticas’ report reveal the necessity for action, particularly since there is a growing consensus that a college degree is the baseline for securing a good job with good pay. Ticas’ new report reveals the need for action at the state-level, where the amount of debt students are left with after pursuing a bachelor’s degree depends largely on the state they live in.

Ticas emphasizes that in addition to increasing states’ funding, there are a lot of approaches that could help students deal with the debt faced by 40 million borrowers and future college students, including increasing awareness of income-driven repayment plans, helping students and their families make informed decisions about college enrollment and financing, and reducing private loan borrowing.

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