Average student loan debt climbs 5% for new college grads, surpasses $1 trillion collectively

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Last spring, when the latest batch of college graduates received their shiny, new degrees, hope had to have sprung collectively eternal. If the numbers for the national class of 2011 is any indication, however, the class of 2012 is in for a cold, hard splash of reality.

Two-thirds of the class of 2011 finished school saddled with loan debt, USA Today reports, and that debt was far from insignificant. Indebted graduates left campus bound by an average debt of $26,600 – an increase of about 5% from the previous year.

“As debt levels rise, fear of loans can prevent students from getting the education they need to succeed,” said TICAS President Lauren Asher, according to USA Today. “Students and parents need to know that, even at similar-looking schools, debt levels can be wildly different.”

Members of the class of 2011 also faced an unemployment rate of 8.8%. Unemployment for college graduates under age 24 is currently 10.5%.

What’s worse, the average debt is probably higher – perhaps much higher – because the figure does not include most graduates of for-profit colleges, who frequently take on more debt than their peers at traditional public and privates colleges and universities.

This latest data came out last week, and was calculated by the California-based Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS).

The TICAS data comes on the heels of much more bad news about student debt. For example, USA Today notes, recent government data shows that almost 10% of borrowers default on their federal student loans within two years after the repayment period begins.

Also, by some measures, the total student loan burden has exceeded $1 trillion. That’s a lot of money. It’s enough to send well over 4.25 million American high school kids to Yale University for four years on full-ride scholarships — which includes tuition, room and board, books and expenses.

Even further, the TICAS report points to studies showing that over one-third of the newly-minted college graduates are stuck in low-paying jobs that don’t require a degree. Other studies put the rate of such underemployment at only 10% or so.

Average levels of student debt range considerably from state to state. In Utah, for example, the average debt level is $17,250 and only 45% of graduates have to deal with debt. In New Hampshire, the average is $32,450 and 75% of all grads leave campus with debt.

Debt levels vary dramatically by school as well, ranging from 12% to 100%. Over 90% of student graduated with debt at 64 schools.

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