College students in Florida who take out student loans graduate with less debt on average than students in most U.S. states, according to a new study analyzing financial aid data.
With lower rankings indicating less debt, Florida ranked 43rd out of 50 states for the amount of debt per student borrower in the class of 2015, with borrowers owing an average of $24,181. This is $4,000 less than the national average and about $12,700 less than the average for student borrowers in Connecticut, which ranked first in the country.
Among Florida’s public universities, FAMU — Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University — student borrowers graduated with the highest debts, an average of $32,339 per borrower. University of Florida students with loans finished school owing an average of $21,028; Florida International University graduates owed an average of $18,918. Among private schools, University of Miami students owed an average of $19,000.
The data was analyzed by LendEDU, an online market place for student loans and student loan refinance. The company licensed the newest available financial aid data from Peterson’s, which released data on the class of 2015 in early August. LendEDU created an interactive map showing which states are home to the most and least heavily indebted students. The report only analyzed data from students who took out loans and graduated with bachelor’s degrees, not all students attending universities in the United States.
Compared with some of the states at the top of the list, like Connecticut and Rhode Island, Florida has relatively few large private universities. The state also has one of the country’s lowest tuition rates for public universities.
Not all large private universities graduated students with high levels of debt, however. Yale and Harvard 2015 graduates with student loans had between $15,000 and $17,000 in debt on average, according to the report.
On a national level, college students are facing ever-increasing levels of student debt. The class of 2016 was the most indebted in history, bringing the total number of Americans with student debt to more than 43 million. The issue has featured prominently in the run-up to the presidential elections: Both major-party candidates have discussed how they would tackle the problem if elected.
While it is important to examine the amount of debt students accrue, their ability to pay back loans is more important, said Troy Miller, the Associate Director for Research and Policy at the Florida College Access Network. Miller pointed to data showing that Florida has the 13th highest student loan default rate in the country.
“One of the things that we know is true about students who are more likely to default on their loans is that they're also least likely to finish their degree,” Miller said.
For many students, however, Miller said post-secondary education remains a worthy investment.
“It is still the case that most education and training beyond high school provides students with a positive return on their investment,” Miller said.