College debt by state in one easy map

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel (c) 2014, The Washington Post.

WASHINGTON — It may house some of the most esteemed colleges in the country, but if you want to graduate without backbreaking debt, steer clear of schools along the eastern seaboard. That’s what a series of new reports seem to suggest.

Based on those reports from the College Board, the Institute for College Access & Success and data from the Department of Education, personal finance site created a nifty interactive map that shows the average student debt and defaults by state in 2013. And it is not pretty on the east side.

Six of the 10 states with the highest debt loads are located in the Northeast. New Hampshire topped the list, with graduates leaving school with an average $32,795, about 11 percent higher than the national average of $28,400. The state is home to a number of private schools, including Dartmouth College, with tuition, room and board exceeding $40,000 a year.

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In a close second, Delaware graduated students with an average $32,571 in debt, while Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine and South Carolina all recorded debt loads above the national average. Many of these states also had double-digit default rates.

Graduates of Midwestern colleges barely fared any better than those on the East Coast, with colleges in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin saddling borrowers on average with over $28,000 in debt.

Seven of the states with the lowest debt loads are in the West. New Mexico boasted the lowest average debt in the nation, with students graduating with $18,656 on average. Yet the state has one of the nation’s worst default rates at 20.8 percent.

There are a myriad of reasons why debt and default rates vary from state to state, including the availability of need-based state grant aid, cost of living, the ratio of private to public schools and the amount of students forking over out-of-state tuition. There is a significant concentration of private liberal arts schools on the east coast. Public schools across the country, meanwhile, have suffered from state disinvestment over the years, which led to increases in tuition and fees.

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The data in the chart only represents public and private non-profit schools, not for-profit colleges, which declined to supply data to any of the researchers.