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The average student loan debt statistics are finally in from 2011 college graduates and the numbers are staggering. Recent graduates are leaving college with almost $27k in student loan debt. Is there any end in sight for rising college costs?

Student loan debt has become a national concern due to the rising costs of attending college and the struggling economy. Many are wondering how recent graduates are supposed to pay off their student loans when they can’t find a job?

More people are getting involved in the conversation, but are we making any progress? Are we asking the right questions?

Average Student Loan Debt Statistics from 2011

A report from Project on Student Debt at The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) revealed that borrowers who earned bachelor’s degrees owed on average $26,600 in student loans upon graduation in 2011.

The study also pointed out that two-thirds of the class of 2011 financed their college education with student loans.

Project on Student Debt Report Highlights:

  • 2010 Average Student Loan Debt: $25,250
  • 2011 Average Student Loan Debt: $26,600

2011 States with Highest Average Student Loan Debt:

  • New Hampshire: $32,440
  • Pennsylvania: $29,959
  • Minnesota: $29,793

2011 States with Lowest Average Student Loan Debt:

  • Utah: $17,227
  • Hawaii: $17,447
  • California: $18,879

Are These Statistics Accurate?

The Project on Student Debt attempted collect accurate information on our nations current student debt levels and they gave it a great effort considering the complicated reporting system. That being said, there are many shortcomings of this data on average student loan debt.

Without more accurate and comprehensive data these student loan debt statistics are only able to provide limited insight into the current problem.

Stated Limitations of The Project on Student Debt:

Financial Aid Packaging at Selective Private Nonprofit Colleges
“At some selective private nonprofit colleges, the net price for low and moderate income students can be lower than at many public colleges, because of financial aid packaging policies and considerable resources for need-based aid from endowments and fundraising. This in turn contributes to relatively low average debt at graduation. At some schools, enrolling a small share of students with low and moderate incomes may also contribute to low student debt levels.”

Data and Reporting Errors
“Other factors can affect the way colleges report the debt figures used in this analysis. There are differences in how colleges interpret the relevant survey questions and calculate their average debt figures, despite attempts to provide clear definitions and instructions.”

Failure to Report Data
“There are also colleges that do not report these figures at all or fail to update them. Of the 1,922 public and private nonprofit four-year colleges in the U.S. that granted bachelor’s degrees during the 2010-11 year, 1,057 – just 55 percent – reported figures for both average debt and percent with debt. Some colleges choose not to respond to the survey used to collect these data, or choose not to respond to the student debt questions.”

Student Loan Debt: Questions and Answers

Looking at these statistics from a bird’s eye view can be helpful to observe student loan debt trends over time. However, seeing these numbers out of context frequently turns the debate into a discussion about making college more affordable rather than addressing the real issue: college is an investment.

There is no other investment that has better returns than investing in yourself. It will pay you dividends for the rest of your life no matter what the stock market is doing. For most people college is an excellent investment. It also comes with a hefty price tag. The cost of college often scares many away from making the commitment, but in reality the cost of not going to college is often far greater than the cost of tuition.

Although there are hundreds of reasons to justify the cost of going to college, recent statistics make a simple argument. College graduates are much better off than those without a college degree. The unemployment rate for young high school graduates was 19.1 percent in 2011, more than double the rate for those with bachelor’s degrees.

“In these tough times, a college degree is still your best bet for getting a job and decent pay,” said TICAS President Lauren Asher. “But, as debt levels rise, fear of loans can prevent students from getting the education they need to succeed. Students and parents need to know that, even at similar looking schools, debt levels can be wildly different. And, if they do need to borrow to get through school, federal student loans, with options like income-based repayment, are the safest way to go.”

So before we continue the debate on whether student loan debt is a problem, please honestly answer this question:

How much are you willing to invest in yourself?

Where Did You Go To College?

The findings from the Project on Student Loan Debt provide a few general observations about how loan amounts vary throughout the United States. For example, the study reports that graduates from Western and Southern Universities typically left college with less debt than those in the Midwest or Northeast.

New Hampshire had the highest average debt at $32,450, followed by Pennsylvania at $29,950. Utah and Hawaii had the lowest and second lowest average debt at $17,250 and $17,450.

2011 States with Highest Average Student Loan Debt:

  • New Hampshire: $32,440
  • Pennsylvania: $29,959
  • Minnesota: $29,793

2011 States with Lowest Average Student Loan Debt:

  • Utah: $17,227
  • Hawaii: $17,447
  • California: $18,879

Student Loan Repayment Options for Graduates

The next step in handling the student loan debt issue is providing more information on student loan repayment options and forgiveness programs. Recent graduates are encouraged to review these resources and determine the appropriate way to handle their new debt burden. Help may be available.

More Information about Student Loan Repayment:

  • Income Based Repayment
  • Student Loan Consolidation
  • Student Loan Forgiveness

This overview on the 2011 average student loan debt only provides a brief perspective on the issue. The statistics quoted in this article are from The Project on Student Debt which is an initiative of The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS). You can read the entire report on their website: http://projectonstudentdebt.org/files/pub/classof2011.pdf