Student Loan Debt Gets Broken Down by Zip Code – Where is It Highest?

Posted By Eliana Osborn on December 30, 2015 at 3:52 pm
Student Loan Debt Gets Broken Down by Zip Code – Where is It Highest?

69% of college students who graduated in 2014 had student loan debt.  That’s up 4% from 2004.  The bigger change in the decade is the average amount of debt, which rose to just under $29,000 at twice the rate of inflation.

Debt numbers are dramatic to read about, but a new project from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth is trying a different approach.  Mapping Student Debt is just that—a map of the whole nation, shaded based on the amount of student loan debt held in specific areas.  Reports have broken down loan data state by state in the past, but MSD is much more personalized with searches available by zip code.

Three different maps are available: median income, average loan burden, and delinquency.  A quick glance at ‘average loan balance’ shows a few bright purple regions, categorized as ‘astronomical’ in the key.  These include zip code 97711 in Oregon, 83637 in Idaho, 59025 in Montana, 85632 in Arizona, and a few others.

Delinquency rates, a concern for institutions of higher education in terms of their statistics, are a more widespread problem.  The entire southeast portion of the country glows on the map, indicating high levels of people behind on paying back their student loans.  The Southwest is also struggling, with significantly bright coloration.  The isolated pockets of high loan balances contrast from the much more common issue of delinquency made abundantly clear through this visualization.

According to the MSD project, “A generation ago, student debt was a relative rarity, but for today’s students and recent graduates, it’s a central fact of economic life that we don’t know much about. Mapping Student Debt is changing that. The maps below show how borrowing for college affects the nation, your city, and even your neighborhood, giving a new perspective on the way in which student debt relates to economic inequality.”  In a community with high levels of debt and delinquency, housing will be affected.  That, in turn, affects public school funding.  If your area is one with frequent repayment problems, credit scores are going to be a problem, which impacts borrowing and spending.

When the MSD was first released on December 1, 2015, researchers explained some of the trends in student loan issues.  First, small loan balances are more likely to be in default.  Holders usually left college without earning a degree, meaning their employment prospects are not as high as hoped for.  They owe money for an education that has not helped them earn any more.  Second, as income increases, delinquency goes down.  No surprise there, as most borrowers understand the responsibility of repaying their loans.  They get behind and enter delinquency not by choice but rather when finances are tight.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

You May Also Like