(STACKER) — In the late 1980s, a high school graduate who wanted to attend college or university was looking at average tuition of $15,160 per year for a private, nonprofit school and $3,190 per year for a public college or university. As of 2021, that number had ballooned to $37,600 for private, nonprofit colleges and $9,400 for public schools. Once the cost of books, room and board, and other fees are added in, paying for college with a part-time or summer job is increasingly becoming a thing of the past.

Today’s students are instead turning to loans, leading to a widespread debt crisis. Americans currently owe a collective $1.58 trillion in student loans, changing the shape and trajectory of the U.S. economy. Instead of buying cars or houses, many millennials are focused on finding jobs that will enable them to make loan payments without defaulting.

President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday, Aug. 24 that he would be canceling some student debt for millions of Americans, with thousands of dollars in loan cancellations for individuals who earn less than $125,000 a year. 

Some states are also taking steps to help by adopting a Student Borrower Bill of Rights and offering a variety of scholarship and loan repayment programs for qualified graduates. In New York in 2017, for example, New York announced a scholarship program that would provide free tuition at public colleges to residents whose families make less than $125,000 a year.

Stacker looked at 2022 data from the Federal Reserve of New York to determine where student debt is hitting the nation the hardest. In the case of a tie, we looked at the number of borrowers in all tied states.

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#15. South Carolina

– Number of borrowers: 745,500
– Average loan balance per borrower: $36,698

A WalletHub study in 2019 found that South Carolina ranked fourth for debt as a percentage of income in the U.S. The state offers several types of loans and loan forgiveness programs for students pursuing the teaching profession and graduates serving as teachers.  

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#14. New Jersey

– Number of borrowers: 1,339,800
– Average loan balance per borrower: $37,003

Although New Jersey borrowers owe more than borrowers in 36 other states as of the last quarter of 2021, the state has a borrower delinquency rate of just 5.8%—which is better than 37 other states. The state also offers loan redemption programs for borrowers in specific professions, including lawyers, nursing instructors, and primary care health providers. 

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#13. Colorado

– Number of borrowers: 804,300
– Average loan balance per borrower: $37,235

Colorado is more reliant on tuition than other states. In fact, 70% of funding for higher education in the state comes from tuition; the national average is 46.6%. This policy forces many students in Colorado to borrow.


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#12. North Carolina

– Number of borrowers: 1,340,500
– Average loan balance per borrower: $37,511

In North Carolina, more than 60% of students who graduate have debt; however, its schools have relatively low tuition and the state’s governor directed an additional $34 million dollars for postsecondary education in April 2022. 

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#11. Alabama

– Number of borrowers: 615,800
– Average loan balance per borrower: $37,730

Alabama ranks in the top states for rising student debt over five years, according to an Experian analysis in 2019, and 50.3% of borrowers are under age 35. The state offers a student grant program for qualified applicants that attend one of 12 participating colleges. 

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#10. California

– Number of borrowers: 4,021,200
– Average loan balance per borrower: $37,783

In September 2020, California’s governor signed the Student Borrower Bill of Rights into law. The law helps students participate in loan repayment and forgiveness programs. The California State Loan Repayment Program offers relief to doctors, nurses, midwives, pharmacists, and other health care providers who will practice in areas of the state where they are most needed.

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#9. Illinois

– Number of borrowers: 1,713,900
– Average loan balance per borrower: $37,869

College loans in Illinois can be refinanced at low interest rates by the Illinois Treasurer’s Office under the Illinois Student Loan Investment Act passed in 2019. Some 17% of the state’s population has student loan debt. Its balance per borrower is nearing $40,000 —which is among the top 10 highest. 

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#8. Oregon

– Number of borrowers: 556,000
– Average loan balance per borrower: $38,248

Oregon’s borrower delinquency rate was 8.3% as of the end of 2021—down three percent from the previous year. The state offers forgiveness and incentive programs for health care providers and lawyers. 

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#7. Florida

– Number of borrowers: 2,646,400
– Average loan balance per borrower: $38,653

Florida passed a law in 2020 to protect graduates’ professional licenses if they defaulted on their loans; prior to the passage of this law, graduates could have professional licenses revoked for failing to pay their student loans. Florida also has forgiveness programs for different professions, including the law and nursing fields. 

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#6. New York

– Number of borrowers: 2,579,600
– Average loan balance per borrower: $38,668

College graduates of an approved New York State college or university who agree to operate a farm in the state full time for five years can obtain loan forgiveness under a young farmers program. The state has forgiveness programs for a number of other professions as well. 

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#5. Virginia

– Number of borrowers: 1,143,200
– Average loan balance per borrower: $39,001

Among Virginia’s graduates, 57% had student loan debt, according to a 2019 report from the nonprofit The Institute for College Access and Success. In 2021, the state passed a bill of rights for student borrowers.

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#4. Delaware

– Number of borrowers: 137,300
– Average loan balance per borrower: $39,238

Delaware’s average debt per borrower is among the highest in the country; only Georgia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. surpass it. Delaware’s student loan repayment program helps to offset this burden. 

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#3. Georgia

– Number of borrowers: 1,641,600
– Average loan balance per borrower: $41,826

In Georgia, 56% of the graduating class of 2020 had student loan debt. The average loan balance per borrower is especially high in the state, considering that 79% of students attended public colleges which are usually less expensive than private colleges. 

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#2. Maryland

– Number of borrowers: 864,700
– Average loan balance per borrower: $42,543

Only Washington D.C. has an average loan balance per borrower higher than Maryland. But the state offers a Loan Debt Relief Tax Credit for borrowers who took out at least $20,000 in loans and have at least $5,000 in debt still outstanding. 

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#1. District of Columbia

– Number of borrowers: 125,000
– Average loan balance per borrower: $53,769

The District of Columbia’s ombudsman and its Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking help students minimize their debt. The district’s attorney general’s office has also compiled a web page of student loan repayment resources. Even so, Washington D.C. borrowers have the highest average loan balance in the country.