State Variation In Student Debt

Student debt is now considered one of the major challenges facing young Americans.  In the Survey of Young Americans’ Attitudes toward Politics and Public Service (Harvard University Institute of Politics), for instance, 58 percent of college graduates report having student debt--something that 79 percent of respondents considers a problem--and almost nine out of ten students in two-year and community college say that financial circumstances played an important role in their decision to pursue a college education or not.

A new report from the Project on Student Debt (an initiative from The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), an independent, nonprofit organization working to make higher education more available and affordable for people of all backgrounds) shows that the extent to which public college undergraduates take on debt to pursue a college education varies greatly from state to state.  In New Hampshire, for example, "80 percent of the class of 2012 borrowed for school, more than in any other state. Students graduated $33,578 in debt on average. [...] In California, by comparison, just over half of public college students borrowed, with an average balance of $17,994 come commencement."  This is represented visually on the map below, where the darker the shade of green, the more frequently public college undergrads borrow.

(Note: for interactive versions of the graphs in this post, please go to:

Moreover, the report suggests, the states where more students borrow also seem to be the states where they take on more debt.

The report concludes: "Many factors influence student debt levels for each graduating class and the rate of increase over time, such as changes in college costs, family resources, and need-based grant aid. For many 2012 graduates, their college years came during a time of increasing college costs and stagnant family resources. State budget cuts led to sharp tuition increases at many public colleges, increasing students’ need to borrow. [...] Borrowing levels almost certainly would have been higher were it not for increased grant aid during this period."

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Frederique Laubepin

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