Average Georgia college student graduates $19,000 in debt. Worth it?

Many Georgia students are graduating to debt. (AJC/file photo)

Many Georgia students are graduating to debt. (AJC/file photo)

This is one of the few studies on college debt that takes it down to a localized level. A report by the Project on Student Debt found that Georgia’s class of 2010 college graduates owed an average of nearly $19,000 in loans.

For those of you wondering why students end up with that much debt in light of the HOPE Scholarship, remember that room and board and fees are not covered, and those annual costs can easily exceed $10,000.

I still say the evidence tips in favor of a college degree, although I know many of you disagree. Granted, the job market is tough now, and half of recent college grads are reportedly living back at home with mom and dad. But a degree is still an asset in the long-term, according to most studies on lifetime earning power.

Georgia ranked No. 44 in the state-by-state list of debt owed. Graduates here face less debt after college than their peers nationwide, which may be a result of the generous –  although increasingly less so –  HOPE Scholarship.

According to the AJC story:

Nationwide, graduates carried an average debt load of $25,250, up 5 percent from the previous year and the highest amount on record. Georgians carried less loan debt than the national average, which indicates nearly two-thirds of 2010 graduates needed college loans to complete their 4-year degrees. New Hampshire topped the list, with 74 percent of graduates owing an average of $31,048, according to the study’s findings.

It’s no secret that it typically costs more money to attend a private college or university rather than a public one. But those attending state schools still accumulate loan debt, even if degrees are a better deal in Georgia.

Southern Polytechnic State University graduates owed an average of $24,360 in loans, according to the report’s findings on Georgia colleges and universities. It cost about $15,448 a year — including tuition, room and board — to attend the Cobb County university.

Among the state’s largest public universities, Georgia Tech grads borrowed $21,838, Georgia State’s borrowed $20,336, and University of Georgia grads needed $15,938. Graduates of Kennesaw State University, in contrast, owed less than a $1,000 each, on average.

So which Georgia graduates owed the most? The Savannah College of Art and Design holds the honor, with diploma holders owing $39,066. Total cost to attend the school is just over $40,000 a year.

Graduates’ debt loads at Georgia’s other private colleges and universities averaged nearly $31,000 at Shorter University, $30,460 at Mercer University, and around $26,000 at Agnes Scott College and Emory University.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

63 comments Add your comment


November 3rd, 2011
3:16 pm

It’s 100% worth it if you get the right degree.

Beverly Fraud

November 3rd, 2011
3:18 pm

In a word, yes. Still some colleges do seem rather steep. Who knew a degree in, for example Lesbian Studies, or another liberal arts discipline could set you back $31k at Shorter?


November 3rd, 2011
3:21 pm

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for college graduates are the lowest. It would be interesting to see this data for those with a 2 year or technical degree.

I still believe some type of education/training beyond a high school diploma is necessary to compete in today’s work environment, especially as more manufacturing jobs are moving offshore.

Beverly Fraud

November 3rd, 2011
3:25 pm

I am of course, assuming a fine liberal arts institution such as Shorter, that values academic freedom, would offer, as many US universities now do, a degree in Lesbian Studies.

Jennifer G.

November 3rd, 2011
3:37 pm

$20,000 is workable. My husband graduated with approximately that amount and has made a payment every month since graduating. Yeah, we would rather not deal with it, but it’s there.

What I don’t understand is how students graduate with $100k of student debt! Does nobody tell them that’s a bad idea?!

Former teacher

November 3rd, 2011
3:40 pm

I wonder what the numbers look like if you include all those who fail to graduate but have debt???


November 3rd, 2011
3:53 pm

@ Beverly Fraud. Funny!


November 3rd, 2011
3:56 pm

$19,000 in debt….. is worth it. Especially if you are getting a technical degree. My wife has become an RN and is about that much in debt. She went from making ~24k as an insurance verifier to making over $50k as an RN working 3 nights a week at a major hospital. Clearly, it was worth it.

Even a liberal arts degree in something like education means your starting salary will be twice that of minimum wage for 9 months work. Clearly, it is worth it.

If, however, you get a business degree and then become a night manager at McDonalds, then you might have made a mistake. Or, if you get a History degree or Women’s Studies degree and can’t get the cushy government job you wanted, then you might have made a mistake.

So for ANY degree with concrete job prospects, $19k worth of debt is worth it.


November 3rd, 2011
4:03 pm

They didn’t offer Lesbian studies when I was in college. Had they, I’d've probably signed up and skipped PE.


November 3rd, 2011
4:51 pm

It says a lot about the state of education when an education column that supposedly looks at the value of a college degree doesn’t include anything remotely related to a financial analysis. Nothing about time value of money? Nothing about inflation? Not even a single mention of average starting salaries/percentage of income going to loan repayments? Unreal.


November 3rd, 2011
5:04 pm

NONPC, you are correct concerning obtaining a strong degree. Unfortunately, if one does not pursue a techinical degree or one with a license. The $19K debt could turn into massive weight around one’s neck which could cause one to drown.

Atlanta mom

November 3rd, 2011
5:33 pm

This is not an education column. This is an education blog.
This information has just become available and Maureen has put it out her for our comments.

Atlanta mom

November 3rd, 2011
5:34 pm

I would think just about any degree would be worth $20,000. There are many jobs that require a degree, any degree. It’s a car payment.
If you have $100,000 of debt, your degree needs to be a little more practical.

Maureen Downey

November 3rd, 2011
5:53 pm

@Richard, Search the blog. I have written about this issue extensively. But this is a blog for education news, not just a place to run my weekly ed columns.)


November 3rd, 2011
5:57 pm

I think 20k in debt is workable. But if you’re planning on 100k, then you have to make sure you are getting the right degree in order to be able to pay back that kind of money. Most liberal arts degrees can be attained at good but fairly inexpensive colleges/state schools. It would be crazy to go to an Ivy League or even a smaller private college for a liberal arts degree in history or something (assuming, of course, you can not afford the tuition and will need to incurr massive debt just to go there.) THAT would not make good financial sense.

I don’t think anyone expects to go to college for completely free (except scholorship students). The rest of us understand that debt will be incurred and most of us plan for it. Well, at least I did.


November 3rd, 2011
6:00 pm

College degree is helpful especially it is in a field like engineering, accounting, finanance, or chemistry. The problem I see is that kids in college run up a big tab on their student load on non-necessities (eg pizza, big screen and a big apt with a view). What they don’t realize is that nearly all college loans can’t be eliminated in bankruptcy. So it is the worse type of loan to take out.


November 3rd, 2011
6:03 pm

I wish more young adults would work more and instead of borrowing, pay cash and have no debt. I have known several who have gone that route. You could even do two years at home and go to a local college. GA khas many good schools.

Jason Combee

November 3rd, 2011
6:30 pm

The debt is worth it as long as the degree pay’s for itself. The $100,000 plus debts usually happen with Medical and Law school. I still think part-time work and maybe military service is a better way to pay if u cant get any kind of Scholarship.


November 3rd, 2011
6:48 pm

I owe $34K in loans but feel it was worth it as my salary has gone up ever since I got my degree in IT and prior to college only made on average $30K annual and now I am at $50K. I would like to pay off the debt sooner than later but have no regrets for getting the degree. It is something I am proud of and it helps to get a foot in the door.


November 3rd, 2011
6:54 pm

Seeing as unemployment amongst those with college degrees is 4% compared with 12% to 16% for non college graduates…yeah 19K isn’t bad at all.

Talking Jarrz

November 3rd, 2011
7:02 pm

As a graduate of Southern Polytechnic State University, I can vouch for the cost to attend the school. However, the experience there, along with the education is certainly worth the cost. I wouldn’t have my exciting job today if it wasn’t for attending SPSU.

Progressive Humanist

November 3rd, 2011
7:30 pm

19k for a bachelor’s degree? Yes. 50K? 60k? 80k? Not unless you’ve got a job lined up right after graduation making upwards of 50k to start. 20k is not that bad and is worth it for almost any major. Luckily my parents were able to pay for UGA when it was only $700 a semester for tuition in the late 80’s. The HOPE teacher’s scholarship paid for my master’s, and now I owe 19k on my PhD, which is well worth it. But ya gotta start somewhere and that first degree is worth a lot in the long run.


November 3rd, 2011
7:34 pm

The sad thing about student loans is that once you have them, they are very difficult to get out from under. You can’t discharge them with a bankruptcy and your social security can be garnished to pay back the loans. If America expects to have a vibrant middle class with a very strong educated class, it must reform this entire student loan industry.


November 3rd, 2011
8:41 pm

University tuition and fees are entirely too high! What bothers me most is having to pay for “frills,” like student activity fees, athletic fees, stadium construction, etc. These are not related to academics and should be charged only for those who use them. Another area that should be contested are technology fees, which is simply a new, created, subsidized industry. We must get over our assumption that newer is better when it comes to computers, etc.

Truth in Moderation

November 3rd, 2011
8:46 pm


November 3rd, 2011
9:17 pm

I suppose that sometimes the financials make sense, but I much prefer scholarships, grants, and working to pay one’s way. It may take a little longer, but in the end it’s much easier to get established if you don’t start out in debt.


November 3rd, 2011
10:15 pm

Under the new federal student loan provisions that take effect next year student loans will be forgiven after 20 years even if no, or only token, payments are made. So yeah, for anyone clever enough to game the system it’s definitely worth it.

Truth in Moderation

November 3rd, 2011
10:26 pm


You are absolutely correct. I know a former homeschooler who started with a part time job at 15, parlayed the experience into a higher paying job at a well known successful company and now, at 25, has seven years with the company and is making almost $50,000/year. He does not have a 4 year degree, but is finishing up a two year technical IT degree on the side, DEBT FREE. In fact, he is completely debt free and an excellent manager of money. Another homeschooler friend makes even more money with just a two year IT degree. In fact, he was hired before he even finished his degree. At 25, he also has 7 years with his company.


November 3rd, 2011
10:29 pm

no …. its better now to go get a government job and work there for 20 years and be overpaid and retire early with a fat pension and nice benifits. why go break your back in the private sector to get your profits sucked from you to fund gov jobs. its tough to get up and work 80 plus hours a week to run your own business then come home every night to see your neighbor enjoying his cushy 35 hr a week job , with 31 paid sick days and 3 week paid vacation that you pay for with your hard work

Atlanta mom

November 3rd, 2011
10:50 pm

Atl Guy,
You said:The sad thing about student loans is that once you have them, they are very difficult to get out from under. You can’t discharge them with a bankruptcy
The sad thing is when people take out loans and think that they need not be repaid. It has never crossed my mind to discharge ANY debt, let alone through bankruptcy.


November 4th, 2011
3:57 am

The upshot? Being a college graduate is starting to become a vocation for those brave enough to weather the storm or at least a calculated gamble on behalf of students that once they graduate they’ll have a meaningful offer on the table. The reality though is most students will be forced to consider a masters program (and of course much more debt) to compete for the few premium jobs that still exist or to go it alone and create their own mechanism into a high powered living that may or may not go somewhere. Such are the realities and inconveniences of having aspirations beyond a highschool diploma. So much for upward mobility…



November 4th, 2011
7:01 am

There is nothing average about the new average student loan debt. http://bit.ly/vbM6bR

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 4th, 2011
7:56 am

Ok kiddies. You’ve had your 4 years of drunkenness, fun, sex and studying. Time to pay up!


November 4th, 2011
9:51 am

In today’s world, an education is the most important thing a person has that no one can take away – full stop.


November 4th, 2011
10:06 am

@Atl Guy,
The sad thing about student loans is that once you have them, they are very difficult to get out from under. You can’t discharge them with a bankruptcy

That is not sad… that is by design. If you could discharge a bank student loan, everyone would do it immediately upon exit of college and the banks would stop lending. If you could discharge a government student loan, everyone would do it and the taxpayer would get stuck holding the bag. Then, taxpayers would refuse to make loans available.

The problem is not student loans. The problem is the cost of education. Does it really cost 100% more to teach calculus now than it did 10 years ago? What about chemistry? physics? English? History? Schools charge more for technology now than ever before, yet technology costs have DROPPED by an order of magnitude. The notebook computer that most students carry today has more processing power than the entire computer system had at Ga. Tech when I went there in the early 1980s.

The problem is that Colleges and Universities have been taking advantage of students. They should be limited to tuition AND fee increases of no more than the rate of inflation. MD has posted a few “are teachers paid to much” lately, but most University Professors ARE paid too much in salary and benefits to only be teaching three hours each week… work mostly performed by aids.

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 4th, 2011
12:13 pm


November 3rd, 2011
7:34 pm

Nice sarcasm… ;)


November 4th, 2011
4:29 pm

It would be better, especially if the HOPE grant would not have changed to exclude most adults. We were 20 when the market was good, so many of is did not get a degree, we went to work, and did well! Now we need to go to school, HOPE was there, and now it’s not.

There is a petition to reinstate the HOPE grant for non traditional students and adults. When they changed the legislation, they didn’t grandfather current recipients or give people a time period to enroll if they were thinking about going to school. Shouldn’t they have thought about that?


Teacher-Mom in Cobb

November 5th, 2011
11:02 am

Twenty thousand seems fairly reasonable, but the current price of ONE year at UGA is close to twenty thousand (without the HOPE), so I don’t know how realistic it is.


November 6th, 2011
3:25 pm

I got my Master’s Degree last year at a SL price/debt of $30K. Good news is that I am 58 and at 65 the debt is forgiven. About $300/month is a lot of money.


November 6th, 2011
3:27 pm

But definitely worth it!!!


November 6th, 2011
3:39 pm

I have well over $100K in student loan debt, all from law school. When I started, the economy was healthy and the job market looked favorable for my profession. When I started law school, the information I consulted considered it a good investment. Three years later, it is a completely different story.


November 6th, 2011
3:54 pm

Collegepro: I am in over $100,000 for my PhD (my only debt except utilities). Is it true about 65? I thought they could take your SS, too, until you die. Not true? (My pmt is about $800 per month). I will be 65 in five more years.

Voice of Experience

November 6th, 2011
4:01 pm

The for-profit colleges will rip you off and you will pay dearly for years.


November 6th, 2011
4:01 pm

I just graduated from Mercer Univesity this year and my student loans are at 55K. It took me 5 years to graduate with a semester break inbetween. Where is the 30K coming from? I worked full time and I lived with my parents and I went to the Atlanta Campus. I am proud that I finally have my college degree but, I am not looking forward to paying this loan back…..

Professional Student

November 6th, 2011
4:10 pm

Many Universities have lost their way. They joined the rest of America in the illusory paradigm of believing the reason for living was to rake in money. They prefer foreign students to whom they can charge 4x the tuition. Many snooty institutions justify this, though they receive govt funds and even “private” institutions are subsidized by US tax payers, with their belief that American students are too lazy to study. While there is truth that a slice of culture views those years as a 4 year party, many take their education seriously. There has emerged a social engineering approach to education that, for all the expense and upgrade to the bottom line cost of getting education, we the students are walking away paying many times the cost those who went to the same schools 20 years ago paid but with only a percentage of the value.

The problem is required group study. Even, abominably MATH classes have become group effort. I’ve spent an ENORMOUS amount of time teaching other students because we are all given GROUP grades. School presidents salaries have gone the way CEO formula, being paid outrageous sums. Professors?, probably not the cause of runaway costs. To keep them they reduced their workload with the institution if univerity group think. We the students, if we value knowledge, are stuck teaching the kid who barely know English, the slacker, and the overworked student who must work their way through school. The choice? Total hit to our GPA for not taking up their slack. It’s a part time job having to accommodate other STUDENTS work/life/play schedules for group meetings. Time I spent while earning my first degree in actually learnin the course material. Every degree universities award whose course work requires group projects ought to award 1/4 degree per person.

Scam. Georgia universities Presidents live and socialize their extravagant society lifestyle buy coercing teachers to us this teaching model, lower effort for same pay, and lazy students getting easy grades who fail to realize they are only cheating themselves in the long run.

If you are a parent paying big fees to put your kids through in this business model, trust me, you need to make a stink. It’s the educational version of 90’s mortgages and these university presidents are stealing your kids futures. 1/4 the over priced, illegal alien subsidized (don’t think so. Amer. in this environment, but it exists), education you paid for will not allow them to compete in a global
work world.

Apologies for odd words/spellings in my post, iPads self correct poorly.

Right now, kids are being skewed over for money, just like those people who bought poor mortgage plans. It is sickening to buy that piece of paper just to play the game, but it is hideous to walk away from school everyday to have to play this game and not be paid when some of us have to bear the burden of doing the teaching as well as paying the cost of it an the illegals my school has chosen to play god to.

Independent voter

November 6th, 2011
4:54 pm

Live at home… work your way through a Jr. college… co-op at a VoTech… learn to do SOMETHING… we need engineers.. Medical.. nurses.. electricians.. hands on mechanical .. techs.. not just a liberal arts degree in NOTHING… like borrowing big $$$ for a car you can’t drive ??


November 6th, 2011
5:01 pm

The problem with Student Loans is not so much the loans themselves but the lack of restraint shown by the educational institutions. There is not a good reason for higher education to be increasing in cost at twice the rate of infation. Someone needs to be taking a good look at the University System in Georgia to understand the reasons for continuing, unsupportable increases in cost.

Professional Student

November 6th, 2011
5:19 pm

This conversation is only relevant to people who have not yet bought those loans that will not go away. I can give you some good advice, as I love learning and have sent both happy years and stressful at university.

1. Do not take ANY schools word about the relevance of your major and it’s future earnings. Someone here posted they researched a law degree and believed it was viable, but they were misled as it has been a saturated field for years. few other degrees allowed you to study some pretty lame liberal arts degrees and still go on to higher education.

2. Don’t believe anything an admissions officer says to you. Do your own research.

3. Stretch yourself, believe in your goals and try with all your might, but, be honest with yourself AFTER some effort, if you do not have the aptitude for your major, find one you do.

4. Education is always worth it. I am cynical because I’ve seen the decline of expectation and teacher effort, but ignorance should never be your choice. There MUST still be excellent educators, somewhere… (after class at one of my schools, an angry professor tossed a memo they’d been given requiring them to “find a way” to pass students with poor math skills. ).

5. Reject schools that require nothing of you. while you may think your clever, this only works for the children of the 1% super rich. Nobody can fire the poor performing children of board members. your job IS going to require something from you and you’d better be able to perform. You are no longer competing with other worker you know, you are competing with entire countries of hungry people who know an education is their ticket. The day are gone to presume being born in the
greatest country was a guarantee to a chance for a decent life.

If you have babes in arms, unless you have super support from family members, you may want to wait a few years. Those students were always so emotionally fragile. They looked like they carried the weight of the world on their shoulders. Maybe it would be easier if the kids were a little older, I don’t know.

Do solid research on your specific fields chances of not being consumed by computers (even great portions of legal work will be, imagining a world with fewer lawyer is even better than Lennon’s idea).

While I think liberal arts classes COULD assist with critical thinking skills, you need to leave higher education with solid job skills to pay back student loans. But! You’ll be competing with engineers from other countries who work for 1/4 what you can and still live indoors. That needs some serious hard work on your part to meet those financial obligations in our present times. Middle management has gone the way of the dinosaur, and that is likely a good thing.

You need to think about your education and choice of skill set beyond “where will I get a job”. Think seriously what skills do you have to sell and are they viable if you work as self employed?

It’s an absolute guarantee that you will run your student loans through the roof if you get into college and change your major. Work a year, work two and put away some money if you don’t know what you want to do. The effort necessary for success is enormous, and our times are unforgiving. Divorce your life and goals from that of your social network if your friends are not serious as death about school. if you fail to drive yourself through as quickly and cheaply as possible I cannot warn you enough about taking on an easy to obtain and impossible to deal with debt if you are not driven to make the experience pay off for you.

Life does not give us guarantees. Even people who think they have cushy government jobs will lose them if the percentage of unemployed tips enough to create the necessary elements for the inevitable overthrow. And in other countries, times existed such that the educated and skilled were overthrown by the masses of disenfranchised. Do the research and own your choice in light of he fact that whatever you do, you will be working. without skills or education you will, in times like these, find it difficult to get a job at Mickie-D’s. Given the competition from world laborers, what could you do that your neighbors or community would pay for? Small businesses are experiencing a renaissance.

If you love learning, if you do not know, there are dozens of big name schools offering FREE online classes! If you can’t scrape the required funds to go to school you can still work your way up with this free knowledge.

I’ve ended up with too much in loans because I had to work my way through school and life events didn’t cooperate. However, though they are a pain, I own my choice and wouldn’t change a thing other than living in a time that greed brought down this nation.

See, if you didn’t have some liberal arts history, you’d believe the problem is capitalism as a few suggest, but the forces behind the fall existed in communism, when effort was not rewarded and again only a few held the declining wealth of a nation and the majority stood in lines for days for govt shoes in the wrong size and maybe a roll of toilet paper. Government is not an answer to need yet I see people moaning about obama’s jobs bill. Govt doesn’t make, it takes. I probably have too many characters in my soapbox field, I’ll get down now. TRULY KNOW what you are doing before you sign loan paperwork. You need education, but: “The debtor is slave to the lender” and no human is a decent slave keeper.

Professional Student

November 6th, 2011
5:29 pm

@AJC: Why is the poster going by “JC” able and allowed to threaten others with gun fire? Is that not against AJC rules? Every day these people make a blame scapegoat with their hate on these boards. Why is this ok? If someone made this comment about another race or sexual orientation you’d snatch it down.

Lilburn Lady

November 6th, 2011
5:53 pm

A college degree is definitely worth the money if you get a degree in something that you can actually use in the real world. A Bachelor’s Degree in Art History or English, for example, qualifies you to do absolutely nothing unless you intend to get a Masters or PhD in order to teach college. Also, how many college students borrow a “little extra” in order to pay living expenses when they could have gotten a part-time job to cover those expenses instead.

It is possible to graduate from college with little or no debt, if you are frugal and make a little income during the process. My husband has been working full-time and going to college part-time at night for six years now. We paid off our other debt, drive old cars that are paid for, paid off and cut up our credit cards, turned off the cable and got rid of the land line phone. We can’t afford designer jeans or Smart phones, but we have paid cash for his tuition and books and he will graduate this May with no student loan debt.

Someone needs to educate these kids that it is at least an option not to have to borrow money to go to school. There is another way to do it. I also think that if fewer students borrowed money for tuition and thus, had to be a little more cost conscious about where they go to college, the law of supply and demand would force colleges to lower their tuition and “fees”. It is, in my opinion, the over availability of loans for college, that has allowed colleges to raise their costs at two to three times the rate of the cost of living. Work, scrimp, and pay cash for college. It is possible.