10 Colleges Where Graduates Have the Least Debt

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Over the past decade, students have taken on an increasing amount of debt to pay for college. While borrowing student loans may be inevitable for many, costs and financial aid options vary widely across institutions, and so too can the average level of student debt.

Experts advise students to keep borrowing to a minimum, turning to loans only after seeking out other forms of financial aid like grants and scholarships, which do not have to be repaid. Those who overborrow student loans may struggle to repay their debt: 17% of adults who took on education debt and still owed money in 2019 were behind on their payments, according to the Federal Reserve.

[Read: See How Average Student Loan Debt Has Changed in 10 Years.]

Still, the majority of college graduates rely on student loans to pay for college. In an annual U.S. News survey, 1,008 ranked colleges reported the average student loan debt for graduates in the class of 2019. Looking across these schools, the average student loan debt was $30,037 and about 65% of graduates borrowed, on average. This data pertains to first-year students who borrowed federal and private loans to pay for college, excluding parent loans, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree.

To limit student loan debt, prospective students can consider attending a college where students typically rely on smaller loans. At the 10 colleges where graduates had the least debt in 2019, the average debt burden of those who borrowed to pay for school was $5,473. An average of about 34% of class of 2019 graduates at these schools borrowed loans.

On the other end of the spectrum, at the colleges where 2019 graduates borrowed the most, their average student loan debt was $52,327.

[See: 11 Steps to Minimize Student Loan Debt.]

Similar to 2018, graduates of Pensacola State College in Florida in 2019 borrowed the least amount, relying on $1,537 of debt on average. Just 4% of graduates from this school borrowed loans to pay for college.

The 10 schools where graduates borrowed the least are located throughout the country and are primarily Regional Universities, institutions that offer bachelor’s degrees, some master’s programs and limited doctoral degrees, or Regional Colleges, schools that focus on undergraduate education but award fewer than half of their degrees in liberal arts fields. Just one National Liberal Arts College makes the list; this type of school emphasizes undergraduate education and awards half or more of its degrees in liberal arts fields.

Below is a list of the 10 colleges where 2019 graduates who borrowed loans to pay for school had the lowest average debt. 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 2019 Percentage of graduating students who borrowed U.S. News rank and category
Pensacola State College (FL) $1,537 4% 30, Regional Colleges (South)
Arizona Christian University $3,049 20% 14, Regional Colleges (West)
Texas A&M International University $3,477 64% 58 (tie), Regional Universities (West)
CUNY–York College $5,266 3% 38, Regional Colleges (North)
Berea College (KY) $5,517 51% 33, National Liberal Arts Colleges
California State University–Chico $5,894 40% 26 (tie), Regional Universities (West)
San Francisco State University $5,928 28% 29 (tie), Regional Universities (West)
CUNY–Lehman College $7,177 21% 56 (tie), Regional Universities (North)
California State University–Fullerton $7,665 42% 16 (tie), Regional Universities (West)
Ohio Valley University $9,217 64% 70-91, Regional Colleges (South)

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 1,800 colleges and universities for our 2020 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 loan data above is correct as of Feb. 23, 2021.

More from U.S. News

5 Reasons to Keep Paying Federal Student Loans During the Pandemic

Understanding the Types of Federal Student Loans Available

22 Colleges Where the Most Students Borrow Private Loans

10 Colleges Where Graduates Have the Least Debt originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 02/25/21: This article has been updated to reflect a newer average student loan debt figure for all ranked schools and for those where graduates borrowed the most.

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