Corrected on Feb. 24, 2021: A previous version of this article included Drexel University at the top of the list.
The U.S. News Short List, separate from our overall rankings, is a regular series that magnifies individual data points in hopes of providing students and parents a way to find which undergraduate or graduate programs excel or have room to grow in specific areas. Be sure to explore The Short List: College, The Short List: Grad School and The Short List: Online Programs to find data that matters to you in your college or graduate school search.
By the numbers, a college degree will pay off in the long run. Workers with a bachelor’s degree earn around $500 more a week than their counterparts with only a high school diploma, according to median earnings data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And over a lifetime, a bachelor’s degree is worth $2.8 million on average, per research from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
Given the long-term benefits, it may make sense for some students to take out loans to pay for college with the idea that they will pay that debt off over the course of their career. Since students accrue debt before it starts to pay off, that can be considered the cost of entry into a fruitful career.
[Read: Is College Worth the Cost?]
But students should carefully consider how much money they borrow to pay for college. While it may make sense to take out student loans, overborrowing can create a larger debt burden and possibly add additional years of payments. As part of their college search, prospective students may want to consider how much student loan debt they can realistically manage in the future.
In an annual U.S. News survey, 1,008 ranked colleges submitted data on the average student loan debt for graduates in the class of 2019. 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. Looking across these schools, the average student loan debt was $30,037.
But that number was much higher among the 10 colleges where graduates held the highest debt: $52,327, which is over $22,000 more than the average among all schools.
Atop the list is Maine Maritime Academy, where 2019 graduates who borrowed left with an average debt load of $56,897 — nearly $27,000 above the average among all ranked colleges.
Class of 2019 graduates from these 10 colleges also borrowed at higher rates than the national average, per U.S. News data. The average percentage of graduates who took out student loans was around 65% across all colleges reporting this data, but about 78% for these 10 schools. However, that percentage varies widely among schools on this list.
For example, a reported 95% of graduates from the Maine Maritime Academy borrowed student loans, which is among the highest in the nation, whereas 65% of graduates from Bryant University in Rhode Island took on such debt — a figure that is more aligned with the national average.
No one region or type of school dominates the list of where graduates have the most debt. The 10 colleges are largely spread out across the U.S. and are a mix of National Universities, schools that are often research-oriented and offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees; Regional Universities, institutions that offer bachelor’s degrees, some master’s programs and limited doctoral degrees; and Regional Colleges, schools that focus on undergraduate education but award fewer than half of their degrees in liberal arts fields.
Below is a list of the 10 colleges where 2019 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 2019||Percentage of graduating students who borrowed||U.S. News rank and category|
|Maine Maritime Academy||$56,897||95%||4, Regional Colleges (North)|
|University of Detroit Mercy||$55,097||66%||187 (tie), National Universities|
|Alabama State University||$54,177||89%||94 (tie), Regional Universities (South)|
|Bryant University (RI)||$53,350||65%||7, Regional Universities (North)|
|Carthage College (WI)||$52,809||82%||12 (tie), Regional Colleges (Midwest)|
|University of New England (ME)||$52,073||87%||249 (tie), National Universities|
|National University (CA)||$50,166||71%||95-124, Regional Universities (West)|
|Nazareth College (NY)||$49,827||88%||45 (tie), Regional Universities (North)|
|Drexel University (PA)||$49,541||67%||133 (tie), National Universities|
|Mills College (CA)||$49,333||72%||12, Regional Universities (West)|
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 debt data above is correct as of Feb. 24, 2021.
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