According to a report released by the Institute for College Access and Success on Thursday, October 18th, 2012, Average Student Loan Debt 2012 (students graduating in 2011) topped $26,000. This number is about $1,000 more than the average student loan debt calculated for 2010, and represents an increase of 5 percent. This increase percentage has been the norm in recent years due to the U.S. Economy fallout since around 2008.

Who has been most affected?

Average student loan debt 2012 affects roughly two-thirds of the Class of 2011, with private (non-federal) loans making up about one-fifth of the borrowers' total loan packages.

Graduates in 2011 came out to a very tough job market in the United States, with unemployment rates for recent graduates at 8.8 percent, which although slightly lower than the record-high 9.1 percent unemployment rate of 2010, was still a daunting number. Access to a federal study also revealed that average student loan debt 2012 for graduates from for-profit colleges tended to borrow significantly more money than those who attend/attended other types of schools.

Average Student Loan Debt 2012

The report garnered data only from nonprofit four-year schools, mainly because the majority of for-profit colleges decided to withhold that information. In light of this reticence on the part of for-profit schools, the report has recommended the federal government step in to provide critical information needed by parents and students in order to make wise decisions.

“Voluntarily reported data is all that we've got to shed light on how debt at graduation varies from school to school and year to year. Students need reliable information on all schools, and colleges that consistently and accurately provide their own debt figures deserve a level playing field,” said Matthew Reed, the report's main author. “…The need for federal collection of key debt information at all colleges could not be more clear.”

Average highs and lows for student loan debt by state:

New Hampshire came in with the highest average student loan debt 2012 at $32,450, followed by Pennsylvania, which came in at $29,950. The lowest averages were attributed to Hawaii and Utah, which came in at $17,450 and $17,250 respectively.

The average student loan debt trends follow a familiar path, with the higher debt states located in the Northeast and Midwest, and the lower debt states primarily in the South and West.

Digging deeper: The school one chooses matters

While national averages provide an overall look at average student loan debt 2012, the actual amount of debt a student accrues depends very much on the individual school he or she chooses to attend. The report studied 1,057 colleges and found that the average debt held by each graduate could potentially be extremely different, with numbers ranging from $3,000 to $55,000. The percentage of students owing money for student loans also differed dramatically per college, from 12 percent at some institutions up to 100 percent at others. These differences come partly as a result of the availability of financial aid, tuition and fees amounts, and cost of living where colleges are located.

“Students and parents need to know that, even at similar looking schools, debt levels can be wildly different,” said Lauren Asher, President of the Institute for College Access and Success.