Average Student Loan Debt for a Bachelor’s Degree

Last Updated: November 1, 2021 by Melanie Hanson

Report Highlights. The average debt for a 4-year Bachelor’s degree is $28,800.

  • The average 4-year Bachelor’s degree debt from a public college is $27,000.
  • 65% of students seeking  a Bachelor’s degree from a public 4 year college have student loan debt.
  • The average 4-year Bachelor’s degree debt from a private for-profit college is $39,900.
  • For private non-profit colleges, the average Bachelor’s degree debt is $33,700.

Related reports include Average Student Loan Debt | Total Student Loan Debt | Student Loan Debt by Race | Average Medical School Debt | Average Law School Debt

Timeline of Average Debt on Education Data Initiative

Public School 4-year Undergraduate Loan Debt

Students accrue less undergraduate loan debt from a public 4-year college than private schools because tuition is partially subsidized by state funding. Residents are given the cheapest tuition  possible because resident tax payer dollars go into funding state schools.  

  • The average 4-year Bachelor’s degree debt from a public college is $27,000.
  • 65% of students seeking a Bachelor’s degree from a public 4 year college have student loan debt.
  • 35% of students seeking a Bachelor’s degree from a public 4 year college have no student loan debt. 
  • 12 % of Bachelor degree graduates who went to a public 4-year school owe over $40,000 in debt. 
  • 1 in 1,000 in-state public school bachelor degree graduates will have $100,000 in student loan debt. 
  • 88% of students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree from an in-state public school will have loan debt under $30,000. 
Average Bachelor Degree Debt for Public Colleges
Year Debt per Borrower Debt per Graduate
2003-04 $22,800 $12,400
2008-09 $24,100 $13,400
2013-14 $27,400 $16,300
2018-19 $27,000 $14,900

Private School 4-year Undergraduate Loan Debt

Students are saddled with more undergraduate loan debt from a private 4-year college because of the lack of state funding and tuition subsidization. Between private for-profit schools and private non-profit schools, Bachelor degree graduates typically accrue more debt at the for-profit schools. 

  • For private non-profit colleges, the average Bachelor’s degree debt is $33,700.
  • The average 4-year Bachelor’s degree debt from a private for-profit college is $39,900.
  • 20% of Bachelor degree graduates who went to a private non-profit 4-year school owe over $40,000 in debt.
  • Roughly 50% of Bachelor degree graduates who went to a private for-profit 4-year school owed over $40,000 in debt.
  • Private for-profit colleges award roughly 5% of the nation’s total annual Bachelor degrees.  
Average Bachelor Degree Debt for Private Non-profit Colleges
Year Debt per Borrower Debt per Graduate
2003-04 $28,100 $17,900
2008-09 $31,700 $20,600
2013-14 $32,600 $20,800
2018-19 $33,700 $19,500

Public School vs Private School 4-year Undergraduate Loan Debt

This dataset comes from 2016 – before the 2020 pandemic suspension on student loan payments. Information about student loan debt from for-profit colleges is scarce. Only 3% of for-profit colleges release data about their student loan debt size.

  • 83% of students from private for-profit 4 year colleges have student loan debt.
  • Their student loan debt averaged $39,900.
  • 30% of students with loans from for-profit colleges defaulted on their federal student loans within 12 years.
  • 4% of students with loans from public colleges defaulted on their federal student loans within 12 years.
  • 5% of students with loans from non-profit colleges defaulted on their federal student loans within 12 years.

Private and Public College Debt on Education Data Initiative

Average 4-year Bachelor’s Degree Debt by State

The majority of the states with the highest levels of debt are located in the northeast. The low debt states are primarily concentrated in the west. In 26 states the average debt was over $30,000 – 5 of them in particular had an average over $35,000.

  • Over the past 17 years, the student debt load has grown by twice the rate of inflation in 18 states.
  • In 5 states, inflation outpaced the student debt load.
  • New Hampshire has the highest average debt for students with a 4-year Bachelor’s degree – $39,410.
  • Utah has the lowest average debt for students with a 4-year Bachelor’s degree – $17,935.
  • At 74%, New Hampshire and South Dakota are tied as the states with the most amount of students in debt.
  • At 40%, Utah is the state with the least amount of students in debt.
Table of Average Bachelor’s Degree Debt per State
State Average Debt Percent of Students with Debt
Alabama $29,791 50%
Alaska $25,925 48%
Arizona $24,712 49%
Arkansas $26,679 53%
California $21,485 47%
Colorado $26,562 50%
Connecticut $38,546 56%
Delaware $37,447 59%
District of Columbia $32,039 46%
Florida $24,629 48%
Georgia $28,081 56%
Hawaii $23,577 43%
Idaho $25,942 60%
Illinois $29,666 61%
Indiana $28,112 59%
Iowa $30,259 63%
Kansas $26,788 60%
Kentucky $28,482 58%
Louisiana $25,512 48%
Maine $33,591 67%
Maryland $30,303 53%
Massachusetts $33,256 55%
Michigan $30,677 59%
Minnesota $31,856 66%
Mississippi $31,651 55%
Missouri $28,740 57%
Montana $27,265 57%
Nebraska $26,026 57%
Nevada $21,254 46%
New Hampshire $39,410 74%
New Jersey $33,566 64%
New Mexico $20,991 45%
New York $31,155 58%
North Carolina $26,583 55%
North Dakota $32,745 64%
Ohio $29,886 60%
Oklahoma $25,793 47%
Oregon $27,542 54%
Pennsylvania $39,027 65%
Rhode Island $37,614 59%
South Carolina $31,524 60%
South Dakota $31,653 74%
Tennessee $27,525 60%
Texas $26,951 48%
Utah $17,935 40%
Vermont $30,566 60%
Virginia $30,574 56%
Washington $24,645 50%
West Virginia $29,272 67%
Wisconsin $31,550 64%
Wyoming $23,444 46%

Average 4-year Bachelor’s Degree Debt by Race

In 2016, on average 28% of Bachelor’s degree graduates experienced difficulty repaying their student loans 1 year after graduation. The moratorium on student debt payments in 2020 aided an estimated 88% of all borrowers. The suspension also halted delinquencies and default collections on outstanding debt. The data below only includes debt from federal loans.

  • In 2016, 85% of Black borrowers averaged a student loan debt of $34,000.
  • White graduates had on average $26,000 in student loan debt from 4-year Bachelor’s degrees.
  • 66% of White graduates had student loan debt.
  • Black graduates have nearly $8,000 more debt than White graduates.
  • Black borrowers who were experiencing difficulty paying their debt averaged $42,250 in student loans.
  • 68% of Hispanic graduates have student loan debt.
  • Hispanic borrowers without difficulty paying off their Bachelor degree debt averaged $25,450 in loans.
  • Hispanic borrowers who experienced hardship trying to pay off their Bachelor degree debt averaged $34,750 in loans.
  • Hispanic graduates borrowed on average $25,700 for a 4-year Bachelor’s degree.
  • 43% of Asian graduates had student loan debt.
  • Asian graduates borrowed on average $22,700 for a 4-year Bachelor’s degree.
  • The table below is the percentage of graduates from each race experiencing difficulty with their student loan debt 1 year after graduation. 

Races with Payment Difficulty on Education Data Initiative

Average 4-year Bachelor’s Degree Debt by Gender

Women tend to borrow more and have higher rates of student loan debt than men when pursuing their 4-year Bachelor’s degree. Among women, Black women assume the largest amounts of undergraduate debt.

  • 70% of female students take out student loans to pay for their 4-year undergraduate education.
  • 63% of male students take out student loans to pay for their 4-year undergraduate education.
  • Annually, 44% of women will take out loans for their undergraduate degree.
  • Annually, 39% of men will take out loans for their undergraduate degree.
  • Women take on roughly $400 more in student debt annually compared to men.
  • In 2012, 1/3rd or 34% of Black women who graduated with a Bachelor’s degree had more than $40,000 in student debt.
  • In comparison, 16% of Hispanic women had that level of debt, 10% of White women, and 8% of Asian women.

Gender Debt Timeline on Education Data Initiative

Sources

  1. Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities: What is the typical debt load for graduates of four-year public universities?
  2. The Institute for College Access & Success Report: Student Debt and the Class of 2019 – 15th Annual Report October 2000
  3. Edmit: What is the average student loan debt? (Updated for 2020)
  4. Census Bureau: Student Debt Weighed Heavily on Millions Even Before Pandemic
  5. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES): Question – What statistics do you have on student loan debt and repayment for college students?
  6. American Association of University Women: Deeper in Debt Women and Student Loans
  7. CollegeBoard: Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2020
  8. Brookings Institute: Who owes all that student debt? And who’d benefit if it were forgiven?