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For families deciding how much to take out in student loans to pay for college, experts commonly advise that a student’s debt at graduation should be less than his or her annual starting salary.
While costs may be a concern, a bachelor’s degree is typically worth it. The average college graduate’s salary is $30,000 more than an average worker with only a high school diploma, according to a 2019 analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
[Read: Is College Worth the Cost?]
That said, prospective students are often advised to do their research before making the investment in a college education, including by evaluating student debt statistics.
Among the 1,031 ranked colleges that submitted this data to U.S. News in an annual survey, the average student loan debt for graduates in the class of 2018 who borrowed to pay for school was nearly $30,000. That average debt load was much higher among the 10 colleges where graduates had the highest debt: $50,510.
Topping the list is the Maine Maritime Academy, where graduates who borrowed left with an average debt load of $55,644.
For some schools on this list, graduates may have a difficult time paying back their student loans. Carthage College in Wisconsin, for example, reported an average debt load of $52,380 for the class of 2018, while the median annual earnings one year after graduating from Carthage ranges from $20,800 to $52,400 depending on field of study, according to U.S. Department of Education data. That means for some graduates, their debt load is larger than their starting salary, which may result in longer repayment periods or even missed payments and delinquency status.
The percent of graduating students who borrowed to pay for college varies widely among these 10 schools. At the Maine Maritime Academy, 94% of graduating students took out student loans. At Texas Christian University, by contrast, 35% of graduating students borrowed to pay for school.
Students who receive some college education but do not graduate are among the groups that feel the greatest impact of student loan debt. A 2017 analysis by the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit news organization, found that 3.9 million students with federal student loan debt dropped out of college during fiscal years 2015 and 2016. Students who do not graduate are three times more likely to default than borrowers who do, according to the Department of Education.
At the colleges where the class of 2018 had the highest average debt loads, Department of Education data shows a wide range in the percent of students who graduated within eight years of first attending the institution.
For example, at Bryant University in Rhode Island, which reported an average debt load of $54,067, government data shows that 79% of students graduated within that time frame. But at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania, which reported an average debt load of $52,243, just over half of students — 53% — graduated in that period.
Below is a list of the 10 colleges where 2018 graduates who took out loans for school had the highest average debt load. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be numerically ranked, were not considered for this report.
|School (state)||Average debt load, class of 2018||Percentage of graduating students who borrowed||U.S. News rank and category|
|Maine Maritime Academy||$55,644||94||5, Regional Colleges (North)|
|Bryant University (RI)||$54,067||70||7, Regional Universities (North)|
|Carthage College (WI)||$52,380||79||14 (tie), Regional Colleges (Midwest)|
|Mansfield University of Pennsylvania||$52,243||64||164-215, National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Baylor University (TX)||$50,172||52||79 (tie), National Universities|
|Union University (TN)||$49,824||67||185 (tie), National Universities|
|Texas Christian University||$49,197||35||97 (tie), National Universities|
|Quinnipiac University (CT)||$48,544||70||153 (tie), National Universities|
|Western New England University (MA)||$46,591||81||218 (tie), National Universities|
|The Catholic University of America (DC)||$46,437||69||139 (tie) National Universities|
Don’t see your school in the top 10? Access the U.S. News College Compass to find student debt information, complete rankings and much more. Sign up for the U.S. News Extra Help: College Admissions free email newsletter to receive expert advice twice a month.
U.S. News surveyed more than 1,900 colleges and universities for our 2019 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported myriad data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News’ data the most accurate and detailed collection of college facts and figures of its kind. While U.S. News uses much of this survey data to rank schools for our annual Best Colleges rankings, the data can also be useful when examined on a smaller scale. U.S. News will now produce lists of data, separate from the overall rankings, meant to provide students and parents a means to find which schools excel, or have room to grow, in specific areas that are important to them. While the data comes from the schools themselves, these lists are not related to, and have no influence over, U.S. News’ rankings of Best Colleges, Best Graduate Schools or Best Online Programs. The student debt data above is correct as of Feb. 11, 2020.
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Correction 02/21/20: A previous version of this article included Wilkes University, which notified U.S. News that it incorrectly reported the average debt load for the class of 2018.