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 and The Short List: Grad School to find data that matters to you in your college or grad school search.
Note: This updated report includes newly reported figures from schools since the release of the 2013 Best Colleges rankings.
Many students take loans to help pay for college. Among graduates in the class of 2011, 68 percent of students had debt at graduation, according to data their schools reported to U.S. News in a 2012 survey.
On average, those borrowers left carrying about $26,220 in debt, based on reports from 1,033 ranked colleges that provided both the percentage of graduating students in the class of 2011 who had loans and the average total amount those students owed. That's significantly lower than the six-figure debt that often makes headlines but is not very common, as financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz has noted.
Nevertheless, some colleges graduated students with debt loads far above the national average. At the 10 schools that graduated the most indebted students, graduates left with between $43,712 and $47,066 in student loans in 2011. These calculations include loans taken out by students from colleges, financial institutions, and federal, state, and local governments, but exclude any loans their parents may have taken.
At Clark Atlanta University in Georgia, 94 percent of students in the class of 2011 left with debt—and carried the highest average load of any graduating class. That year, grads who had borrowed owed an average of $47,066.
Clark Atlanta, like several schools on the top 10 list below, is designated by U.S. News as Rank Not Published (RNP) in the 2013 Best Colleges rankings. RNP signifies schools that fall in the bottom quarter of institutions in a rankings category, and thus are not given public numeric rankings. Unranked colleges, which do not submit enough data for U.S. News to calculate a ranking, were not considered for this report.
Student debt is an increasingly large concern at colleges across the country, some financial aid officers say. Prospective students can inquire about the statistics below—average graduate debt loads and percentages of students who borrow—as they evaluate colleges and payment options. Another good rule of thumb: Fill out the FAFSA and borrow federal student loans before turning to the private sector, where interest rates are typically variable and borrower protections are not guaranteed.
[Explore often-overlooked ways to pay for college.]
These are the 10 schools that graduated students with the heaviest average debt loads in 2011:
|School name (state)||Average debt load, class of 2011||Percentage of students who borrowed||U.S. News rank and category|
|Clark Atlanta University (GA)||$47,066||94||RNP, National Universities|
|Lawrence Technological University (MI)||$46,677||74||40, Regional Universities (Midwest)|
|Johnson C. Smith University (NC)||$46,673||100||RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Sacred Heart University (CT)||$45,402||77||38, Regional Universities (North)|
|Wheelock College (MA)||$45,391||97.2||61, Regional Universities (North)|
|Bennett College (NC)||$45,275||94||RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Delaware State University||$45,098||90||RNP, Regional Universities (North)|
|Franklin Pierce University (NH)||$44,702||81||124, Regional Universities (North)|
|Widener University (PA)||$44,430||86||189, National Universities|
|Oral Roberts University (OK)||$43,712||70||53, Regional Universities (West)|
Access the U.S. News College Compass to see which universities send graduates off with the most and least debt, among many other financial aid statistics.
U.S. News surveyed more than 1,800 colleges and universities for our 2012 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported a myriad of data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News's 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 come from the schools themselves, these lists are not related to, and have no influence over, U.S. News's rankings of Best Colleges or Best Graduate Schools. The indebtedness data above are correct as of Dec. 14, 2012.
Clarified 12/21/12: This article has been updated to include an expanded definition of loan debt, as used in the above calculations.