College Graduates Face Record-High Debt In the Age of Record-High Unemployment

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The news just keeps getting worse for college graduates. According to a report out today from the Project on Student Debt, college seniors who graduated with student loans in 2010 owed an average of $25,250—the highest level ever recorded and a 5% increase from the previous year.Those debt-carrying graduates also faced an impossibly tough job market, as unemployment for new college graduates hovered at 9.1%.

(MORE: Obama’s Student Loan Plan to Offer Welcome Debt Relief)

Add to that the fact that the average debt total doesn’t include for-profits institutions, which often saddle their students with much more debt than a traditional college, as too few provide the data to be included in the study — meaning that the state of student debt is likely much worse than we know.

The debt figures add weight to the push to curb skyrocketing student debt. A week ago, President Obama released details of a plan to help ease the burden of student loan debt, which is on track to top $1 trillion this year. One of the highlights of the new “Pay As You Can” plan will let an estimated 1.6 million students cap their monthly federal loan payments at 10% of their income beginning next year, moving up the 2014 start date for the income-based repayment program that Congress passed last year.

(GALLERY: The 20 Colleges With the Most (and Least) Student Debt)

Obama’s plan has some new debt consolidation options and will also forgive any remaining federal student loan debt after 20 years, five years sooner than under current law. Unfortunately, none of these provisions will help students struggling to pay back private loans.

Here are some other findings from the report:

  • The average debt load ranged from $950 to $55,250, and the proportion of students who graduated with loans ranged from 2% to 100%
  • 98 colleges reported that their 2010 graduates owed an average of more than $35,000
  • 73 colleges reported that more than 90% of their graduates left with debt
  • The states with the highest average debt are all in the Northeast and Midwest, while states with the lowest debt are concentrated in the West
  • New Hampshire had the highest average debt at $31,048, followed by Maine with $29,983
  • Utah had the lowest average debt at $15,509, followed by Hawaii with $15,550