College Grad Debt Averages $24K

College seniors who graduated in 2009 carried an average of $24,000 in student loan debt, up 6% from 2008, according to a recent report from the Project on Student Debt.

According to the research group, the 6% increase in debt is similar to the average annual increase during the past four years, despite the recession. The consistency is attributed to the fact that most college seniors took out the bulk of their student loans before the recession began.

Additionally, the report says, many colleges made efforts to increase or maintain need-based aid when the economy faltered so that students could afford to stay in school.

Regardless, the report attributes the debt to the “unique challenges” that graduates experience upon leaving school, specifically their inability to secure employment upon graduation. Currently, the unemployment rate for college graduates age 20 to 24 rose from 5.8% in 2008 to 8.7% in 2009, which is the highest annual rate on record.

The Project on Student Debt cultivated its figures by analyzing more than 1,000 public and private nonprofit four-year institutions.

While averages for debt at graduation from four-year colleges ranged widely in 2009, from $13,000 to $30,000, states in the Northeast were disproportionately represented among the “high debt” states, and those in the West were disproportionately represented among the “low debt” states.

Students graduating in the District of Columbia and New Hampshire carried the most debt, with $30,033 and $29,443, respectively, while students graduating in Utah and Georgia carried the least with an average of $12,860 and 16,568. You can check the report for a full list of rankings.