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.
Taking on debt to go to college is not an inherently bad idea, many say. A well-researched loan in a manageable amount can be a smart investment for your future career, and it's a funding option many students choose.
[Find out how much you should borrow for college.]
Sixty-eight percent of graduates in the class of 2011 borrowed to help pay for college, according to data reported by 1,033 ranked colleges in a 2012 U.S. News survey. On average, those students had $26,220 in debt. The debt data used in these calculations include loans taken out by students from colleges, financial institutions, and federal, state, and local governments, and exclude any loans taken by parents.
Some students borrowed even less. At 10 colleges on the list below, borrowers owed an average of about $10,000 or less at graduation. Kentucky's Alice Lloyd College graduated the class with the lowest average debt of any institution: The 34 percent of students who borrowed owed an average of just $3,750 at graduation in 2011.
Alice Lloyd is one of several schools on this list with programs that help students cut down on debt. The institution grants free tuition to students from the Appalachian Service region, which includes districts in Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia, and Tennessee. Another Kentucky college on the list below, Berea College, allows all students to work on campus in exchange for free tuition.
[See other colleges that are tuition free.]
A few of the colleges that sent students off with the least average debt are very highly ranked in the 2013 Best Colleges rankings. Princeton University, tied for the top spot in the National Universities rankings, and Yale University, ranked No. 3, make the list, graduating borrowers in 2011 with an average of $5,000 and $8,940 in debt, respectively. Williams College, the top-ranked National Liberal Arts College, reported that its borrowers that year owed an average of $8,801.
Schools designated as "Unranked" by U.S. News, because they do not submit enough data for a numerical ranking to be calculated, were not considered for this report.
These are the 10 colleges where graduates in the class of 2011 left owing the lowest average debt loads.
|School name (state)||Average debt load, class of 2011||Percentage of students who borrowed||U.S. News rank and category|
|Alice Lloyd College (KY)||$3,750||34||39, Regional Colleges (South)|
|Princeton University (NJ)||$5,000||25||1, National Universities|
|College of the Ozarks (MO)||$7,062||12||9, Regional Colleges (Midwest)|
|Berea College (KY)||$7,661||77||75, National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Touro College (NY)||$7,927||38||104, Regional Universities (North)|
|Williams College (MA)||$8,801||44||1, National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Yale University (CT)||$8,940||23||3, National Universities|
|University of Maine--Fort Kent||$9,505||65||39, Regional Colleges (North)|
|Tennessee Technological University||$9,952||47||33, Regional Universities (South)|
|Hampton University (VA)||$10,119||93||27, Regional Universities (South)|
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. 26, 2012.