Ranking Colleges by the Amount of Debt Per Degree Issued

Relatively hot off the presses at Inside Higher Ed is a very interesting little article about a study released by education policy think tank Education Sector.

Its authors say they aim to give a more complete picture of higher education - rather than judging by graduation rates alone or by default rates alone - by dividing the total amount of money undergraduates borrow at a college by the number of degrees it awards.

According to the study, the dubious honor of highest debt burdens per degree belongs to for-profit colleges Bridgepoint Education (proprietor of Ashford University among others) and Grand Canyon University. Students at those schools can accumulate six-figure debts. Students at Strayer University rack up over $60,000 in debt on average. At DeVry (which has multiple branches), it's approximately $50,000 per degree.

Of course, not all for-profit schools saddle students with such monstrous debt. Institutions such as Corinthian Colleges (proprietor of the many branches of Everest University and other schools) and Lincoln Educational Services (owner of Lincoln Technical Institute and many other schools) have debt-per-degree ratios in the $16,000 to $18,000 range. Note, though, that those two schools typically offer shorter, career-oriented programs for people who want to be dental assistants, study hospitality management, and the like.

Borrowing-to-degree ratios at public universities are very different from state to state and from school to school. For example, you can expect to borrow a little over $20,000 for a degree at Iowa State. If you're the average student at Florida State, your loan amount at graduation will be only $11,000 or so.

Borrowing-to-credential ratios at fancy-pants private colleges varies tremendously. Students at New York University are burdened with an average debt of over $25,000. At the University of Southern California, it's about $17,000. On the other hand, students at ridiculously wealthy schools with mammoth endowments such as Princeton and Caltech end up with paltry debts--usually less than $5,000.