2010 College Graduates Met With More Debt, More Unemployment

Even though the outlook for college graduates was grimmer for the class of 2010 than for previous years, grant aid continues to help offset lower income levels and higher tuition rates, according to a new report from the Project on Student Debt at the Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS).

Findings show the class of 2010 graduated with an average debt of $25,250, up 5 percent from the previous year, and an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent (still less than half the unemployment rate for young adults with only a high school diploma). The report, “Student Debt and the Class of 2010,” focuses on graduates of public and private nonprofit four-year colleges who had federal or private student loans. 

“Nationally, two-thirds of the Class of 2010 entered a tough job market with debt averaging $25,250, up from $24,000 for the Class of 2009,” said report author Matthew Reed. “Some thought the jump would be even higher because of the economic downturn, but increased grant aid helped at least partially offset lower family incomes and higher tuitions while the Class of 2010 was in school.” 

Debt levels also vary tremendously from school to school and state to state, according to the report: 


  • Loan debt for 2010 college graduates ranged from $950 to $55,250, and the proportion of each college’s students graduating with loans ranged from two to 100 percent. 
  • With more than 1,000 colleges reporting data, a total of 98 colleges reported that their 2010 graduates owed an average of more than $35,000, and 73 colleges reported that more than 90 percent of their Class of 2010 graduated with debt.  
  • The report also found that the Northeast and Midwest comprised the highest average debt for 2010 graduates, while states with the lowest debt are concentrated in the West. New Hampshire had the highest average debt at $31,048, followed by Maine at $29,983. Utah and Hawaii had the lowest average debt at $15,509 and $15,550, respectively.  


Because federal data show that a large percent of student at for-profit four-year colleges have loans, and because few for-profits provided the necessary data for the report, TICAS estimates that these loan averages may be higher.

The data set represents half of all public and private nonprofit four-year schools and three-quarters of the class of 2010.

The report and an interactive map of average debt levels for the 50 states and District of Columbia and for more than 1,000 individual U.S. colleges and universities, are available on the Project of Student Debt website

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