10 Colleges Where Students Graduate With the Most Debt

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.

Most students do not take on six-figure debt to go to college, a new study by financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz has found. But, according to school-reported data, some students are still leaving college with much higher levels of debt than the national average.

[Read about rising student loan debt.]

Students who borrowed for college and graduated in 2011 left owing $26,224 on average, based on statistics reported by 1,035 schools in an annual survey to U.S. News. For graduating classes with the highest average debt, student balances were roughly $18,000 to $28,000 more.

In 2011, La Sierra University's graduating class had the highest average debt of any school in the country. That year, students with loans left the Riverside, Calif., institution owing an average of $54,885.

La Sierra, like the majority of schools that graduated students with the most debt in 2011, is a private college. Delaware State University, where grads shouldered an average of $45,098 once they completed their degrees in 2011, is the sole public school on this top 10 list.

Also like La Sierra, half the schools on the most-debt list below received a Rank Not Published (RNP) designation in the U.S. News Best Colleges 2013 rankings. RNP denotes schools with numerical rankings in the bottom one fourth of their rankings categories, which U.S. News does not publish. Unranked schools, which do not submit enough data to U.S. News for a ranking to be calculated, were excluded from this report.

In addition to debt figures, schools also report the percentage of a graduating class that borrowed. Every graduate from Johnson C. Smith University in 2011 took out loans for college, according to the institution, and left with an average of $46,673 in debt. Nearly all students took loans to attend Wheelock College in Massachusetts, Bennett College in North Carolina, and Georgia's Clark Atlanta University, too.

[Find out how much you should borrow for college.]

These colleges sent their 2011 graduating classes off with the highest average loan burdens:

School name (state)

Average debt load, class of 2011

Percentage of students who borrowed

U.S. News rank and category

La Sierra University (CA)



RNP, Regional Universities (West)

Catawba College (NC)



17, Regional Colleges (South)

Clark Atlanta University (GA)



RNP, National Universities

Lawrence Technological University (MI)



40, Regional Universities (Midwest)

Johnson C. Smith University (NC)



RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges

Sacred Heart University (CT)



38, Regional Universities (North)

Wheelock College (MA)



61, Regional Universities (North)

Bennett College (NC)



RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges

Delaware State University



RNP, Regional Universities (North)

Franklin Pierce University (NH)



124, Regional Universities (North)

Access the U.S. News College Compass to see which universities send graduates off with the most and least debt, among many other financial aid statistics.

U.S. News surveyed more than 1,800 colleges and universities for our 2012 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 the data come from the schools themselves, these lists have no influence over U.S. News's rankings of Best Colleges or Best Graduate Schools.