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Similar Debt Levels for Graduates from Public and Independent Institutions

September 6, 2006

Attending a public university, an institution with a low sticker price, or an institution in a state with a low cost of living does not necessarily correlate with lower student debt levels, according to a new study from The Project on Student Debt.  The study, Student Debt and the Class of 2005: Average Debt by State, Sector, and School, which analyzes data from more than 1,400 U.S. institutions, shows that the range of average student debt incurred at both public and independent institutions is wide--from a high of $22,793 in New Hampshire to a low of $11,709 in Utah--for students graduating with a bachelor’s degree.  The state of Iowa ranked first among the publics in terms of highest average student debt ($23,198), and the state of Arizona was the highest among the independents ($32,504). 

In most states, graduates of public institutions graduate with lower levels of debt than graduates of independent institutions.  However, the study shows that this is not the case in seven states.  In Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Delaware, Arkansas, Iowa, and North Dakota, graduates of independent colleges left college in 2005 with lower levels of debt on average than students who attended public institutions in those states. 

Furthermore, in high-cost-of-living states, such as California and New York, where one would expect higher debt levels from graduates, the opposite appears to be true.  Not one of the states identified with a high cost of living appeared in the top 10 states ranked by average student debt.  In addition, though independent institutions do charge higher tuitions on average than publics, the study identified more than 30 independent institutions with sticker prices of more than $20,000, from which the 2005 class graduated with less debt than the published average tuition rate for that year ($15,000 or less).

The study offers an interactive map, which allows users to view institution-specific data by state, including debt levels, published tuition and fees, and the percentage of students receiving Pell grants.