Which State Has the Highest Student Loan Debt? [MAP]

Average-student-loan-debt-by-state-map

Everyone knows that the college you choose is going to have a major impact on how much (if any) student loan debt you ultimately have when you finish school. If you go to a more expensive college (and have little other funding) then you’re probably going to have a greater amount of student loans; if you go to a less expensive college, then you’re probably going to have a lesser amount of student loans.

But it turns out, the state in which you go to college might also play a role in determining how much student debt you have. That’s according to the 13th Annual Report on Student Debt (PDF), published by The Institute for College Access & Success, which analyzed student loan figures for the Class of 2017.

The report looked at data available from colleges from every state in the US and analyzed it to get a picture of exactly how America’s student debt crisis is spread out by state.

Key Takeaways from the Report

Some of the key takeaways from their report include:

  • Roughly 65% of college seniors graduating in 2017 had at least some student loan debt.
  • Across all states, borrowers owed an average of $28,650 (a 1% increase compared to the class of 2016).
  • The state with the lowest average student loan debt was Utah, with an average of $18,850.
  • The state with the highest average student loan debt was Connecticut, with an average of $38,500.
  • The likelihood of new graduates having student loan debt also varied substantially, from 38% in Utah to 74% in New Hampshire. Only in Utah did less than 40% of graduates graduate with student loans
  • 18 states have an average student loan debt of at least $30,000.
  • The states with the highest average student loan debt are concentrated in the Northeast, while the states with the lowest average student loan debt are concentrated in western states.

To make it a little easier to digest and understand the information in the report, we’ve created the map below that illustrates the average student loan debt held by college students in every state.

Editor’s Note: The darker the green, the greater the average student loan debt a state has. Unfortunately, there was not enough data for the report to calculate the average debt burden for the Class of 2017 in North Dakota.

Student Loan Debt by State (highest to lowest)

1. Connecticut

Average student loan debt per graduate: $38,510
Percentage of graduates with debt: 57%

2. Pennsylvania

Average student loan debt per graduate: $36,854
Percentage of graduates with debt: 67%

3. Rhode Island

Average student loan debt per graduate: $36,250
Percentage of graduates with debt: 64%

4. New Hampshire

Average student loan debt per graduate: $34,415
Percentage of graduates with debt: 74%

5. Delaware

Average student loan debt per graduate: $34,144
Percentage of graduates with debt: 62%

6. New Jersey

Average student loan debt per graduate: $32,247
Percentage of graduates with debt: 61%

7. Massachusetts

Average student loan debt per graduate: $32,065
Percentage of graduates with debt: 59%

8. Alabama

Average student loan debt per graduate: $31,899
Percentage of graduates with debt: 50%

9. Minnesota

Average student loan debt per graduate: $31,734
Percentage of graduates with debt: 68%

10. Maine

Average student loan debt per graduate: $31,364
Percentage of graduates with debt: 56%

11. Michigan

Average student loan debt per graduate: $31,289
Percentage of graduates with debt: 58%

12. South Dakota

Average student loan debt per graduate: $31,275
Percentage of graduates with debt: 74%

13. New York

Average student loan debt per graduate: $30,931
Percentage of graduates with debt: 60%

14. South Carolina

Average student loan debt per graduate: $30,891
Percentage of graduates with debt: 58%

15. Washington, D.C.

Average student loan debt per graduate: $30,775
Percentage of graduates with debt: 46%

16. Vermont

Average student loan debt per graduate: $30,651
Percentage of graduates with debt: 60%

17. Ohio

Average student loan debt per graduate: $30,629
Percentage of graduates with debt: 62%

18. Mississippi

Average student loan debt per graduate: $30,439
Percentage of graduates with debt: 58%

19. Virginia

Average student loan debt per graduate: $29,887
Percentage of graduates with debt: 56%

20. Iowa

Average student loan debt per graduate: $29,859
Percentage of graduates with debt: 63%

21. Wisconsin

Average student loan debt per graduate: $29,569
Percentage of graduates with debt: 64%

22. Indiana

Average student loan debt per graduate: $29,561
Percentage of graduates with debt: 57%

23. Maryland

Average student loan debt per graduate: $29,314
Percentage of graduates with debt: 56%

24. Illinois

Average student loan debt per graduate: $29,214
Percentage of graduates with debt: 61%

25. Georgia

Average student loan debt per graduate: $28,635
Percentage of graduates with debt: 57%

26. Montana

Average student loan debt per graduate: $28,466
Percentage of graduates with debt: 59%

27. Kentucky

Average student loan debt per graduate: $28,447
Percentage of graduates with debt: 64%

28. Oregon

Average student loan debt per graduate: $27,885
Percentage of graduates with debt: 56%

29. Kansas

Average student loan debt per graduate: $27,720
Percentage of graduates with debt: 59%

30. West Virginia

Average student loan debt per graduate: $27,505
Percentage of graduates with debt: 74%

31. Louisiana

Average student loan debt per graduate: $27,210
Percentage of graduates with debt: 48%

32. Missouri

Average student loan debt per graduate: $27,108
Percentage of graduates with debt: 58%

33. Texas

Average student loan debt per graduate: $26,824
Percentage of graduates with debt: 55%

34. Arkansas

Average student loan debt per graduate: $26,799
Percentage of graduates with debt: 55%

35. Idaho

Average student loan debt per graduate: $26,675
Percentage of graduates with debt: 61%

36. Colorado

Average student loan debt per graduate: $26,530
Percentage of graduates with debt: 52%

37. North Carolina

Average student loan debt per graduate: $26,526
Percentage of graduates with debt: 57%

38. Oklahoma

Average student loan debt per graduate: $25,952
Percentage of graduates with debt: 49%

39. Nebraska

Average student loan debt per graduate: $25,750
Percentage of graduates with debt: 54%

40. Alaska

Average student loan debt per graduate: $25,682
Percentage of graduates with debt: 46%

41. Tennessee

Average student loan debt per graduate: $25,252
Percentage of graduates with debt: 56%

42. Hawaii

Average student loan debt per graduate: $25,125
Percentage of graduates with debt: 49%

43. Florida

Average student loan debt per graduate: $24,041
Percentage of graduates with debt: 50%

44. Arizona

Average student loan debt per graduate: $23,967
Percentage of graduates with debt: 54%

45. Washington

Average student loan debt per graduate: $23,936
Percentage of graduates with debt: 52%

46. California

Average student loan debt per graduate: $22,785
Percentage of graduates with debt: 50%

47. Wyoming

Average student loan debt per graduate: $22,524
Percentage of graduates with debt: 47%

48. Nevada

Average student loan debt per graduate: $22,064
Percentage of graduates with debt: 48%

49. New Mexico

Average student loan debt per graduate: $21,237
Percentage of graduates with debt: 54%

50. Utah

Average student loan debt per graduate: $18,838
Percentage of graduates with debt: 38%

Interpreting the Data

So, why is there such a discrepancy in the average student loan debt held by college graduates in each state? That’s hard to say for certain, because there are so many factors that could be influencing the results. But some possibilities include:

Differences in cost of living: If you look at the states with the highest amount of average student loan debt, they match up pretty well with states that have higher cost of living expenses in general.

Differences in college tuition costs: The states with the highest average student loan debt also tend to be the states with some of the most expensive colleges in the nation. New Hampshire has Dartmouth, Massachusetts has Harvard, Rhode Island has Brown, Connecticut has Yale, New York has Cornell and Columbia, New Jersey has Princeton, and Pennsylvania has the University of Pennsylvania. On the other hand, states with the lowest average student loan debt, like Utah, are also the states where less expensive public colleges are both popular and common.

Differences in state aid: States that offer more state aid to college students in the form of grants, public tuition assistance, and even free college tuition will, of course, tend to graduate students with less debt than states with less-generous aid packages.

Differences in savings patterns: One thing that this report doesn’t address is how rates of savings might impact how much students owe in which states. For example, in the states with the lowest amount of student loan debt, is there a corresponding higher rate of parents saving for their child’s college expenses?

What can students do?

Unfortunately, graduating from college with the least possible amount of student debt likely isn’t going to be as easy as simply moving to Utah.

Luckily, the single best way for you to reduce your student loan debt will be for you to do everything in your power to reduce your college expenses before you take out your loans. Of course, this includes selecting the best possible school that falls within your budget.

Already have student loans? Check out this checklist to learn about how you can pay off your student loans as fast (and cheaply) as possible—even if you’re still a student.

About Tim Stobierski

Tim Stobierski is the founding editor of Student Debt Warriors. A freelance writer and editor with a passion for teaching people about all things personal finance, his goal is to help parents and students tackle their student loan problems so that they can live happier, healthier lives. Tim's writing has appeared in a number of publications, including The Huffington Post, The Hartford Courant, Grow Magazine, and others. His first book of poetry, "Chronicles of a Bee Whisperer," was published in 2012 by River Otter Press.

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