Report examines student debt by state, racial disparities in default rates

A new report on student loan data indicates that around two-thirds of college seniors who graduated from public and private nonprofit colleges in 2017 held student loan debt, on average $28,650. The report also breaks down average debt levels and likelihood of debt by state, finding that high-debt states remain concentrated in the Northeast region (Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Delaware, New Jersey, Massachusetts), while low-debt states remain concentrated in the West (Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming, California, Arizona, and Washington).

Connecticut had the highest average student debt at $38,500, and Utah had the lowest at $18,850. New Hampshire had the highest likelihood of debt at 74 percent of students, and Utah the lowest at 38 percent. Looking at the report’s methodology Money notes that it relies on voluntarily reported data, meaning that half of the country’s four-year, non-profit colleges aren’t represented, and the reliability of state averages varies based on the share of graduates counted.

Slow increase in average debt

The report, published annually, is produced by The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to make higher education more available and affordable for people of all backgrounds. This year’s report highlights an “encouraging” slowdown in the growth of students’ average loan debt, which increased one percent from last year. Money reports that opinions differ on the source of the slow growth rate, which could reflect increases in state spending and grants or could indicate that students are running up against the federal borrowing limit.

Black and lower-income graduates more likely to struggle with debt

The TICAS report also breaks the results down by ethnicity, finding that 21 percent of Black students with bachelor’s degrees defaulted on their student loans within 12 years of entering college, compared with eight percent of Hispanic degree holders and three percent of white degree holders in the same time period. The student loan default rate is highest for Pell Grant recipients, who are five times more likely to default than higher-income peers, The Hechinger Report points out.

Also in student debt news: Just 96 public servants granted loan forgiveness

The Education Department recently released data on how many loans it has forgiven through a program intended to erase the student debt of certain not-for-profit and government employees after 10 years of on-time payments. CNBC reports that, despite prior estimates that one-quarter of American workers could be eligible for the program, and although 30,000 applied, only 96 applicants have been approved. Calling the results “grim,” CNBC notes that “even consumer advocates with low expectations of the program were surprised by the newly released data.”

“To have a student loan system where to receive the benefits of it you have to be perfect is not a reasonable expectation to set up for 43 million borrowers,” said Persis Yu, director of the Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project at the National Consumer Law Center, a nonprofit advocacy group.

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