Student Debt Reaches Record Levels–And NH Leads The Pack

Mark Ralston / AFP/Getty Images

All over the country, college students face increasing education costs.

Student debt has been a popular topic lately.  The big figure currently bandied about is that American students and alumni are carrying a trillion dollars of debt.

But that figure, $1,000,000,000,000, it feels so…abstract.  I’ve never even seen a million dollars, let alone a billion or a trillion.  What can a trillion dollars buy?

It would buy 4,208,754 Lamborghini Gallardo Coupes at $237,600.

Or, for the less-than-ultra-wealthy-set, it would also buy 63,271,116 Honda Civics.

Of course, a more publicized measure of this figure is that about $1 trillion has also funded 8 years of war in Iraq.

So it’s only natural that media outlets would be drawn to a number of this magnitude.  What’s interesting, however, is how various state and national news organizations are covering this issue.

Let’s start with New Hampshire.  Here’s the big news reported Ted Siefer at the Union-Leader:

“A new report says college students in New Hampshire graduated with more loan debt last year than anywhere else in the country.

The report comes as students face further tuition hikes and reductions in financial aid due to budget cuts enacted this year — and it’s fanning the political debate over higher education funding in the Granite State.

New Hampshire college and university graduates in 2010 had on average $31,048 in debt, the most in the country, according to the study by the Project on Student Debt. New Hampshire also has the second-greatest proportion of students with debt, 74 percent.

The national average for student debt was $25,250, according to the report, “Student Debt and the Class of 2010,” which is released on a yearly basis and is meant to call attention to escalating burden of college costs.”

Siefer then goes on:

“The University of New Hampshire, the state’s largest, is among the institutions with the highest debt load, according to the report, with students at the Durham campus graduating in 2010 with an average of $32,320 in debt and 76 percent of students relying on loans.

Generally, more expensive and prestigious schools had lower debt loads, thanks to large endowments and scholarship availability, as well as greater parental resources. For example, only half the students at Dartmouth College graduated with debt, which averaged only $18,700.”

Wait…you can go to an Ivy League school and potentially carry less debt than a state school in New Hampshire?!

Apparently so.

But Ivies still aren’t perceived to be anywhere near the bargain that state schools offer.  Take this story by Melissa Korn at the Wall Street Journal:

Bev Norton / Flickr

For some students, going to Dartmouth could actually be cheaper than attending public school

“More students are choosing lower-cost public colleges or commuting to schools from home to save on housing expenses. Twenty-two percent of students from families with annual household incomes above $100,000 attended public, two-year schools in the 2010-2011 academic year, up from 12% the previous year, according to a report from student-loan company Sallie Mae.

Such choices meant families across all income brackets spent 9% less—an average of $21,889 in cash, loans, scholarships and other methods—on college in 2010-11 than in the previous year, according to the report. High-income families cut their college spending by 18%, to $25,760. The report, which is released annually, was based on a survey of about 1,600 students and parents.”

And, because I’m all about facts and figures, here’s some more information from Korn’s piece:

“But a degree from a private college also is expensive and piles on debt. The average debt load for students who took out loans hit a record $27,200 for the class that graduated this year, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of student-aid websites and That comes as general per capita debt reached $47,260 in the second quarter, a figure that has been dropping in recent years, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.”

Jeremy Brooks / Flickr

So let’s look at the by-the-numbers takeaway:

  • Americans carry $1 trillion in student debt.
  • The Class of 2011 took out an average of $27,200 in loans.
  • The Project on Student Debt reports the Class of 2010 carried an average of $25,250 in debt.
  • Meanwhile New Hampshire students went deepest into hawk, with an average debt of $31,048 for the Class of 2010.
  • UNH Durham students carried an average of $32,320 in debt.
  • The same year, the Dartmouth students (only half of whom actually took out loans) only had an average of $18,700 of debt.
  • Meanwhile, across the country–and income brackets–college spending is down by 9 percent from last year.
  • Families in higher income brackets have cut their college spending by 18 percent.
  • But general per capita debt among Americans continues to go down, and was at $47,260 in the second quarter.


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