National student loan debt is on the rise, but the size of college graduates' debt loads varies greatly by state and geographical region, according to a new report from The Institute for College Access & Success.
The class of 2012 graduated with an average $29,400 in student loan debt up 6% from the last federal survey conducted in 2008, according to analysis by TICAS, a nonprofit research and policy organization. Average student loan debt was even higher in Northeastern and Midwestern states. Delaware topped the list with average debt of $33,649. Average student loan debt was also above the $30,000 mark in Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
States with lower levels of student loan debt were primarily concentrated in the West and the South, according to the report. Student loan debt in New Mexico averaged $17,994. Students in California, Arizona, Nevada and Wyoming also had debt below $21,500 on average.
The report evaluated state averages using data voluntarily provided by 1,075 public and private nonprofit four-year colleges. It urged the Department of Education to gather more comprehensive data on student debt levels and graduation rates, noting that these figures will be particularly in demand in light of President Obama's recent proposal to develop government ratings of college tuition and performance by 2015.
"The success of the President's proposal to rate colleges based on access, affordability, value, and student outcomes will depend on the quality of the data used in the ratings, underscoring the urgency of gathering better information," TICAS research director Debbie Cochrane said in a Tuesday press release.