The Project on Student Debt, an initiative sponsored by the Institute for College Access & Success (ICAS), has released its fifth annual report on the extent of student loan debt in the United States. The report examines student loan debt nationwide and on a state-by-state basis.

According to the most recent findings, students who graduated from college in 2009 left school with an average of about $24,000 in student loans. This figure represents an increase of about 6 percent over the amount of student loans taken out by the class of 2008 and is consistent with annual increases in student loan debt levels since The Project on Student Debt first issued this report.

The goal of ICAS and The Project on Student Debt is to bring more transparency to the true cost of a college education and to make higher education more affordable.

More Student Loans Taken Out in the Northeast

The annual study examines student loan debt state-by-state and identifies both public and private nonprofit higher education institutions whose students amass a significant amount of debt from college loans while enrolled.

The highest average student loan debt loads were found in Washington, D.C., where graduates can expect to leave school with about $30,000 in student loans. The lowest student loan debt levels were seen in Utah, where the average graduate in the class of 2009 left college owing slightly less than $13,000 in student loans.

Most of the states with high student loan debt levels were concentrated in the Northeast, where, according to ICAS, tuition at public colleges and universities and the overall cost of living are both higher. In addition, more students attend private four-year colleges in the Northeast than anywhere else in the country. Private colleges and universities are generally several thousand dollars more expensive than public schools.

After Washington, D.C., the states with the highest average levels of student loan debt are New Hampshire, Maine, Iowa, Vermont, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Alaska, and Ohio.

The states with the lowest average student loan debt loads, following Utah, are Georgia, Nevada, Wyoming, Delaware, California, Arizona, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Washington.

ICAS notes that more students in Western states attend public universities and colleges, which are generally less pricey than private institutions. Moreover, tuition at Western public universities is typically lower than the national average.

“High-Debt” Schools Saddle Students With College Loans

This year’s report is based on data collected from about 55 percent of the nation’s four-year public and private nonprofit institutions that issued bachelor’s degrees in the 2008–09 school year. The data do not include student loan information from for-profit colleges and universities. Only seven of the nation’s 438 for-profit schools reported student loan data in 2009, so this information was excluded from the report.

Of the more than 1,000 colleges and universities that participated in the study, 72 reported that at least 90 percent of their graduates in 2009 left school with outstanding college loans.

In its analysis, The Project on Student Debt provided an additional level of detail when listing those public and private universities that reported a high level of student loan debt among their graduates relative to other similar institutions. Because private and public colleges have such disparate tuition rates, The Project on Student Debt classified institutions as “high-debt” according to their public or private status.

Pennsylvania had the highest number of public colleges classified as high-student-loan-debt schools. Massachusetts had the highest number of private, nonprofit high-debt schools.

For comparison, the report also provided a list of “low-debt” universities, those private and public institutions whose graduates left with the lowest average debt loads from student loans.

New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and New York each had two public institutions designated as low-student-loan-debt colleges or universities. New Jersey and Tennessee each had two private colleges classified as low-debt.

Read the full report from The Project on Student Debt: “Student Loan Debt and the Class of 2009

Author's Bio: 

Jeff Mictabor is an enthusiast on the topic of student loan issues in the news. He has been writing for the past 10 years for a variety of education publications. He now offers his writing services on a freelance basis.