10 Colleges Where Graduates Have a Low Average Debt Load

Delece Smith-Barrow

The U.S. News Short List, separate from our overall rankings, is a regular series that magnifies individual data points in hopes of providing students and parents a way to find which undergraduate or graduate programs excel or have room to grow in specific areas. Be sure to explore The Short List: College and The Short List: Grad School to find data that matters to you in your college or grad school search.

More college students are graduating with student loan debt, and the amount of debt is increasing, according to new research from The Institute for College Access and Success.

"The national share of seniors graduating with loans rose in recent years, from 68 percent in 2008 to 71 percent in 2012, while their debt at graduation increased by an average of six percent per year," states a December report from the institute, a nonprofit organization that strives to make college more affordable. The average debt grew by more than 10 percent between 2011 and 2012.

[Photos: 10 steps to minimize student loan debt.]

While many students are graduating with a hefty bill, some are graduating with relatively small debt. Princeton University students who borrow money graduate with the least average amount of debt, according to data submitted to U.S. News by 1,006 ranked schools. The average debt load for the school's class of 2012 was $5,096; 24 percent of students were borrowers. The debt data include loans taken out by students from their colleges, from private financial institutions and from federal, state and local governments. Loans to parents are not included.

Graduates of College of the Ozarks, which requires students to work to pay off tuition, also had low average student debt: $8,915. Only 11 percent of students at the school borrow money. Other schools in the top 10 list where students have the least debt had much higher percentages. At King University, for example, 95 percent of 2012 graduates borrowed, and they had an average debt of $10,892.

[Learn to cope with a change in student loan servicers.]

Students at Wheelock College graduated with the highest average debt in 2012: $49,439.

Among the 10 schools where students graduated with the least debt, the average debt load for the class of 2012 was $8,941. Of the 1,006 schools that submitted data to U.S. News, the average was $27,221.

Students at the United States Air Force Academy, Coast Guard Academy and the Military Academy, also known as West Point, are not charged for tuition and room and board, and graduate debt-free, according to data submitted to U.S. News by those schools. They were not included in the list of schools where students graduate owing the least in student loans.

[Get rid of student loan debt without paying for it.]

Below is a list of the 10 universities where graduates who borrowed have the least debt. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be numerically ranked, were not considered for this report.

School name (state) Average debt load, class of 2012 Percentage of students who borrowed U.S. News rank and category
Princeton University (NJ) $5,096 24 1, National University
Alice Lloyd College (KY) $5,164 43 40, Regional Colleges (South)
Berea College (KY) $7,224 72 76, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Keystone College (PA) $8,675 92 43, Regional Colleges (North)
College of the Ozarks (MO) $8,915 11 10, Regional Colleges (Midwest)
Gallaudet University (DC) $10,347 58 22, Regional Universities (North)
CUNY--Brooklyn College $10,500 48 69, Regional Universities (North)
King University (TN) $10,892 95 73, Regional Universities (South)
University of Colorado--Colorado Springs $11,098 62 42, Regional Universities (West)
Louisiana State University--Alexandria $11,501 61.5 RNP*, National Liberal Arts Colleges

*RNP denotes an institution that is ranked in the bottom one-fourth of its ranking category. U.S. News calculates a rank for the school but has decided not to publish it.

Don't see your school in the top 10? Access the U.S. News College Compass to find student debt information, complete rankings and much more. School officials can access historical data and rankings, including of peer institutions, via U.S. News Academic Insights.

U.S. News surveyed nearly 1,800 colleges and universities for our 2013 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported a myriad of data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News's data the most accurate and detailed collection of college facts and figures of its kind. While U.S. News uses much of this survey data to rank schools for our annual Best Colleges rankings, the data can also be useful when examined on a smaller scale. U.S. News will now produce lists of data, separate from the overall rankings, meant to provide students and parents a means to find which schools excel, or have room to grow, in specific areas that are important to them. While the data come from the schools themselves, these lists are not related to, and have no influence over, U.S. News's rankings of Best Colleges or Best Graduate Schools. The student debt data above are correct as of Dec. 10, 2013.