President Joe Biden has a plan to forgive up to $10,000 of federal student loans per borrower, but many people in the Democrat party want him to go even further and forgive $50,000. And the latest COVID relief bill includes a provision that would make any student debt forgiveness income tax free. But where is all this student debt coming from? Our latest visualization has some answers.
- Students at Arizona State University took out the most loans of any school in the country for the 2020-21 academic year ($568M).
- 35 out of 50 U.S. states list a public university as the highest originator of student loans.
- 14 states have a private-nonprofit institution with the highest total loan originations, led by Liberty University in Virginia ($405M).
- There is only one state in the entire country, Minnesota, where a for-profit university is responsible for the most loan originations ($332M).
To create our map of student loan debt, first we gathered figures from the US Department of Education of total student loan originations for the 2020-21 academic year for every university and college in the country. Then we narrowed the list to the top producer in each state, and classified each institution as either public, private-nonprofit, or proprietary. The result is an intuitive color-coded heat map showing where the bulk of student loan debt ultimately comes from.
Top 10 Universities With the Highest Loan Originations by State
|University||Total Loans Originated|
|1. Arizona State University (AZ)||$568M|
|2. Liberty University (VA)||$447M|
|3. New York University (NY)||$405M|
|4. Pennsylvania State University (PA)||$388M|
|5. Capella University (MN)||$332M|
|6. Rutgers University (NJ)||$309M|
|7. University of Southern California (CA)||$243M|
|8. Nova Southeastern University (FL)||$232M|
|9. Michigan State University (MI)||$228M|
|10. Texas A&M (TX)||$227M|
Our map clearly demonstrates how the majority of student loans come from public universities. 35 out of 50 states have a public school listed as the highest originator of student debt. Arizona State University is the highest offender at $568M in just a single academic year. Several public universities top $200M, including Penn State ($388M), Rutgers ($309M) and Michigan State ($228M). But that’s not to say private-nonprofit universities aren’t driving student loan originations to astronomical levels as well. Liberty University ($447M) and New York University ($405M) are both in the top 3 across the country. Among proprietary schools, Capella University is easily the highest ($332M).
To be fair, our visual doesn’t tell the whole story about student debt. By focusing only on total debt originations, it leaves out the number of students going to these schools. The University of Arizona, for example, saw 26,663 students receive federal student loans totalling $568M, or just over $21K per person. Compare that to Capella University, where only 3,736 students took out $$332M, or almost $89K per person. Our visual also doesn’t take into account the economic status and career mobility of those students. It’s also possible that some outlier students are taking out 6-figure loans, driving up the total loan originations. The being said, with some U.S. politicians actively pushing for debt cancellation, it’s helpful to know where most of the funds will be going.
If you need to take out a student loan to finance your education, it doesn’t always make sense to turn to the federal government. Check out our student loan cost guide for more information.