The White House this week plans to redouble its efforts to help the millions of Americans with student loan debt, a group whose average burden varies greatly by state.

The average burden per borrower from the class of 2012 ranged from $17,994 in New Mexico to as much as $33,649 in Delaware, according to the Project on Student Debt, an initiative of the nonprofit policy and research organization the Institute for College Access & Success. Seven in 10 college seniors graduated with an average of $29,400 per borrower that year, the group found. Generally, states in the Southwest and West had smaller average burdens. 

The map below, based on that data, shows the share of the class of 2012 that graduated with debt and what their average burden was in each state, with darker shades representing a higher average burden. (The data used came from what colleges reported in response to the “Common Data Set” survey, used by publishers of college guides. Data for North Dakota and Hawaii were not provided by the Project on Student Debt.)

The burden can be especially hard on low-income graduates, who saw their debt grow greatly from 2008 to 2012, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The median  debt for a low-income student graduating from a public four-year university in 2008 was just under $17,600 and rose to nearly $20,700 by 2012, a 17 percent increase according to their calculations. And research has found higher student debt is associated with lower rates of homeownership, hurdles to graduation especially for low-income students, and reduced likelihood of students with majors in science, technology, engineering and math going on to graduate school.

Per-student higher education spending, adjusted for inflation, has dropped in all but two states—North Dakota and Alaska—since before the recession, which has been matched by sometimes-dramatic tuition hikes, CBPP found. In Arizona, for example, average inflation-adjusted tuition at a public, four-year college rose more than 80 percent from the 2008 to 2014 fiscal year.

On the bright side, however, tuition hikes last year did slow to their lowest level since the early 1980s, thanks to tuition freezes and increased funding across states, the National Conference of State Legislatures reports. (Legislators in 13 states froze tuition at their universities in 2013. Higher education funding was increased in 43 states.) But, as CBPP points out, funding for higher education remains below pre-recession levels in nearly every state.

The student loan debt is taking up an increasingly large share of overall debt, too. As the NCSL graphic below shows, student loan and home equity were the only two types of debt to have substantially increased their share of overall levels—with student loans seeing the largest increase of any form of debt. (Note: The chart on the left does not add up to 100 percent, while the one on the right does.)


Attention class of 2014: Do you have student debt? These members of Congress do, too. Here are some of their plans for helping 40 million Americans pay for their diplomas. (Julie Percha/The Washington Post)