Where Is Student Debt Highest?

Posted by Urban Institute on April 23, 2018

Many students in the US borrow money to help finance their higher education. Almost 70 percent of all students graduating from four-year colleges in 2012 had student loan debt (Dunlop Velez and Woo 2017). Americans owed over $1.38 trillion in student loan debt at the end of 2017, an increase from $0.55 trillion a decade earlier. In addition, debt levels have risen rapidly for graduates of all types of postsecondary programs. Although there is great focus on student debt at the national level, the geographic distribution of debt receives less attention.

In this brief, we fill this gap by answering two research questions:
 In which regions and states are college students most likely to borrow to pay for their postsecondary studies?
 How does student debt relate to the cost of attending college in those states?

We use two datasets to identify the regions and states with the largest shares of college students with student debt. We find that the Midwest and the Northeast are the two regions with the highest shares of college students borrowing. New Hampshire, Maine, and Pennsylvania are among the states with the largest shares of undergraduates borrowing, and New Mexico, Wyoming, and California are among those with the lowest shares.


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