Visualizing student loan debt by state

3 03 2012

Commentators are buzzing about student loan debt, and for good reason – America’s total burden is now sitting somewhere north of $1 trillion. That staggering total exceeds the amount of credit card debt Americans have racked up.

But even though the average loan-supported student leaves campus with over $25,000 of debt along with their diploma,* that load is not distributed equally across the country. As a recent Slate article and interactive map shows, students in some states graduate carrying a much heavier burden than others.

[Shoot, the map wouldn’t embed. Just go here.]

Michigan is in the survey’s Second Quintile, meaning the average student graduates with $6,772.38 – $7,217.07 in debt.

It’s hard to draw any significant conclusions from the above illustration. Myriad factors likely influence a state’s average student loan debt burden, including percentage of out-of-state students attending a state’s universities (out-of-state students face higher tuition rates, potentially triggering more borrowing), the number of for-profit schools in a state (sadly, many for-profit schools seem to exist solely to suck up as many federally-subsidized student loan dollars as possible), and the public/private school ratio.

Still, it’s interesting to note that the ticking student loan debt bomb – almost universally treated as a national issue – impacts different parts of the country more or less severely.

* This figure is a little misleading, and I’ve been tripped up by it myself. The average student doesn’t leave campus $25k in the hole – that’s the average for students who take out loans. The burden for the average student is skewed lower by those students (roughly a third) who do not take out any loans at all.

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