Although the economic downturn has changed some borrowing and spending habits, recent college graduates are more in debt than ever before. Average student loan debt has continued its steady rise, with graduating seniors holding an average of $23,200 in student loans in 2008. This information comes courtesy of a report by the Project on Student Debt on average debt for the college class of 2008, the latest in an annual series profiling the previous year's graduating class and the financial situations they face upon leaving school.
As debt rose for graduating seniors, so did unemployment, with the unemployment rate for workers age 20-24 (the typical age range for recent college graduates) now standing at 10.6 percent, the highest on record. This combination of factors is likely contributing to the rising student loan default rates we've seen in the last year.
The highest-debt states include the District of Columbia, whose class of 2008 held an average of $29,793 in student loans, Iowa ($28,174), and Connecticut ($26,138). Six other states also topped the $25,000 mark, compared to only two last year: Iowa and New Hampshire. Utah and Hawaii held onto their low-debt distinctions, once again being the two cheapest bets in higher education, at $13,041 and $15,156 respectively. Other low-debt states for 2008 included Kentucky, Wyoming, Arizona, Georgia, and California, though soaring tuition and reduced state funding may soon bump California off this list.
South Dakota, West Virginia, and Iowa had the highest portion of student borrowers in 2008, with 79 percent of graduating seniors in South Dakota taking out a student loan at least once in their college career. More than 70 percent of 2008 graduates in Minnesota and Pennsylvania also went into debt to fund their educations. Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah had the fewest students borrowing, with 37 percent of students in Hawaii, 40 percent of students in Nevada, and 41 percent of students in Utah graduating with debt in 2008.
In addition to describing trends state-by-state, the Project on Student Debt also looked at debt by college. An interactive state map offers not only pop-ups of the state's average debt and percentage of students borrowing, but also provides a link to a list of data by college, including the percentage of borrowers and the average debt for 2008 where available. The report, available on the Project on Student Debt website, also lists which colleges' graduates had the highest and lowest average amounts of debt.
This information can be especially useful to students currently involved in the college search or college application process. Schools whose students borrow less to complete college often have low tuition, generous scholarship opportunities, or other programs to keep costs down. If you're concerned about paying for school, this can be very appealing.