Class of 2012's Graduation Present: $30,000 in Debt

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Graduation mortar board with tassel filled with money
Alamy
By Kate Rogers

In just eight years, the amount of debt the average college graduate leaves school with has increased by almost $10,000.

The annual Project on Student Debt report from the Institute for College Access & Success reports those obtaining a degree in 2012 will have an average of $29,400 in student debt when the walk across the stage. In 2004, the average student loan debt was $18,750.

What's more, the percentage of students graduating with debt ticked to up to 71 percent in 2012 from 65 percent in 2004.

TICAS reports the class of 2012's average debt is also an increased from $26,600 in 2011 and $25,250 in 2010. The data the report relies on varies, as the federal government releases its own data every four years, and colleges are not required to disclose the amount of debt their graduates have upon earning their degrees.

The report compiles information that is submitted voluntarily by more than half of all of the public and private nonprofit four-year institutions across the country.
This year, 1,005 colleges submitted information and TICAS reports that those schools that voluntarily provided high debt levels for the study in years prior were twice as likely to decline to participate in the latest study.

Rob Franek, senior vice president of The Princeton Review, says the results are questioning the long-term pay off of college.

"Even though the debt and average debt load is sobering for families, college is still worth it without question," Franek says. "I think many students and families are asking that question, but are coming up with the answer that more often than not, college is worth it."

Franek says more families and students are looking at which schools are worth the cost. TICAS compiles very limited data from for-profit schools, likely because students at those schools face higher debt loads post-grad.

"The average debt loads at for-profit schools are higher than those at public or private schools in general," he says. "The question is, is it worth it overall to take on that loan debt?"

Students in Delaware graduated with the highest average debt at $33,649. Grads from New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Rhode Island all had debt levels about $30,000, the report shows.

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