WASHINGTON — Seven in 10 students who graduated with bachelor’s degrees in 2012 had student loan debt, with an average debt of $29,400, according to a report from The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS).
Both figures increased since 2008, the last year comparable numbers were available, when 68 percent of graduates had an average debt of $23,450.
Student debt varied tremendously by state, according to the report. Students in South Dakota were the most likely to graduate with debt, with 78 percent of graduates owing money, while students in Nevada were the least likely to graduate with debt, with 41 percent of graduates owing money.
Average debt per student also differed across state lines. Many high-debt states were in the Northeast and Midwest. Delaware’s students had the highest average debt in the country, at $33,649, while students in New Mexico had the lowest average debt, at $17,994.
“Despite discouraging headlines, a college degree remains the best route to finding a job in this tight market,” said Lauren Asher, president of TICAS, a nonprofit organization that aims to make college more available and affordable. “But students and families need to know that debt levels can vary widely from college to college.”
The federal government collects data to calculate national student debt figures every four years, including 2012.
The TICAS report relies on colleges voluntarily sharing data. More than half of all public and private nonprofit four-year colleges shared data for the report. The state figures exclude for-profit colleges because almost none volunteered their figures.
The U.S. Department of Education also launched a financial aid website Wednesday aimed at helping guidance counselors and others who help students navigate applying for colleges and financial aid. The Financial Aid Toolkit includes a searchable database with access to financial aid resources.
The website follows President Barack Obama’s call to improve college access and affordability. In recent weeks, Department of Education officials have been traveling around the country to gather input about how to develop a college rating system that by 2015 will rate colleges on measures such as average tuition and average student debt.
A recent report by the College Board found that students are now paying more for college even though tuition and fee increases at public four-year colleges have slowed because federal financial aid has slowed.
STATES WITH HIGHEST AVERAGE DEBT FOR CLASS OF 2012
New Hampshire $32,698
Rhode Island $31,156
New Jersey $29,287
Source: The Institute for College Access & Success