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The 20 Colleges With the Lowest Student Loan Debt

Christine DiGangi

Student loan debt is growing. That fact has been the core of many higher education conversations in the past few years, as it should. It affects a lot of people. For people who earned bachelor's degrees in the 2012-2013 academic year, 69% at public and private nonprofit colleges graduated with debt, with the average debt load at $28,400.

Education debt relies on several factors, but one of the choices that most impacts the amount of debt you graduate with is where you decide to go to school. Some schools produce graduates with notably high debt loads, but loan balances alone don't reflect a school's quality or value. Those high-debt schools may turn out a lot of graduates who go into high-earning fields, or they may attract student demographics that typically borrow more. There's a lot to consider when deciding the value of a college, and debt among graduates should be part of the equation.

The Project on Student Debt (an initiative from The Institute for College Access & Success aka TICAS) published a helpful report in this area: Student Debt and the Class of 2013. It analyzed data voluntarily reported by more than 1,000 public and private nonprofit colleges and universities in the U.S., which can be searched using the online database at college-insight.org.

TICAS makes it clear that this report doesn't provide a comprehensive view of education debt in the U.S., because it counts only the undergraduate debt of bachelor's degree earners, and not all colleges and universities report their numbers. It doesn't include the debt of borrowers who don't earn degrees, which makes up a lot of defaulted student debt, or graduate students, which accounts for a high volume of outstanding student loan dollars. For-profit colleges, which often produce graduates with heavy debt burdens, are practically not represented in this report, as few voluntarily report debt data. Still, the report represents 83% of all bachelor's degree recipients in the 2012-2013 academic year. Here are the schools included in the report whose undergraduates had the lowest average loan balances upon graduation.

20. CUNY Brooklyn College (public)
Brooklyn, N.Y.
Average debt among 2013 graduates: $11,200
Graduates with debt: 46%

19. Maranatha Baptist Bible College (private nonprofit)
Watertown, Wis.
Average debt: $11,034
Graduates with debt: 67%

18. The University of Texas of the Permian Basin (public)
Odessa, Texas
Average debt: $10,972
Graduates with debt: 46%

17. California State University-Bakersfield (public)
Bakersfield, Calif.
Average debt: $10,871
Graduates with debt: 87%

16. California State University-Dominguez Hills (public)
Carson, Calif.
Average debt: $10,662
Graduates with debt: 52%

15. Howard University (private nonprofit)
Washington, D.C.
Average debt: $10,455
Graduates with debt: 77%

14. Hampton University (private nonprofit)
Hampton, Va.
Average debt: $9,878
Graduates with debt: 79%

13. Fort Valley State University (public)
Fort Valley, Ga.
Average debt: $9,301
Graduates with debt: 90%

12. CUNY Lehman College (public)
Bronx, N.Y.
Average debt: $8,525
Graduates with debt: 25%

11. Mercy College of Ohio (private nonprofit)
Toledo, Ohio
Average debt: $7,975
Graduates with debt: 70%

10. Campbellsville University (private nonprofit)
Campbellsville, Ky.
Average debt: $7,860
Graduates with debt: 44%

9. Keystone College (private nonprofit)
La Plume, Pa.
Average debt: $7,801
Graduates with debt: 81%

8. National University (private nonprofit)
San Diego, Calif.
Average debt: $7,462
Graduates with debt: 73%

7. Berea College (private nonprofit)
Berea, Ky.
Average debt: $6,652
Graduates with debt: 67%

6. College of the Ozarks (private nonprofit)
Point Lookout, Mo.
Average debt: $6,424
Graduates with debt: 13%

5. CUNY Bernard M. Baruch College (public)
New York, N.Y.
Average debt: $5,979
Graduates with debt: 20%

4. Princeton University (private nonprofit)
Princeton, N.J.
Average debt: $5,552
Graduates with debt: 24%

3. California State University-Sacramento (public)
Sacramento, Calif.
Average debt: $4,551
Graduates with debt: 42%

2. East-West University (private nonprofit)
Chicago, Ill.
Average debt: $4,100
Graduates with debt: 70%

1. CUNY York College (public)
Jamaica, N.Y.
Average debt: $2,271
Graduates with debt: 10%

Student loans can be beneficial to your credit if you pay them on time and as agreed. However, if you find it difficult to make your payments, it's important to contact the loan servicer to try to work out a payment arrangement. Defaulting on your loans can damage your credit and make it challenging to get other forms of credit down the road, rent an apartment, or get access to other consumer services. You can see how your student loans are affecting your credit by pulling your free credit scores on Credit.com, and you can see how your credit can affect your lifetime cost of debt by using this calculator.


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