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Furthermore, nearly one out of four Washington, D.C. residents have professional or graduate degrees (more than double the national rate of 11.5 percent).
“That doesn’t mean these borrowers are necessarily in financial crisis though, because most completed their degrees and are earning accordingly,” Lending Tree noted.
The median balance in the top-ranked metro: $22,803.
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With a median balance of $22,232, Atlanta came in second overall for similar reasons. Considered another city of the highly educated, Lending Tree found that 37 percent of Atlanta residents age 25 and older have finished at least a four-year education. More than 13 percent of Atlantans also have a graduate or professional degree.
“But it doesn’t completely explain why about 9% owe more than $100,000, when the average of the metros we reviewed is 6%,” Lending Tree experts wrote.
One possible explanation is that because the city is home to several higher learning institutions, such as Emory University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College, “perhaps the need for so many professors helps to explain why Atlanta is more educated — and in more student debt — than the nation as a whole.”
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Unlike residents of Washington D.C., however, one in five Atlanta residents left college before completing a degree. That’s in line with the national rate.
Only one other Georgia city made the list. Augusta ranked 45th with a median balance of $18,196.
Last year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution teamed up with the Hechinger Report to publish a series of articles on state student aid.
Researchers found that the HOPE Scholarship overhaul in 2011 and the $130 million decline in funding have left a significant financial burden on many low-income college students, meaning more students are leaving college with greater student loan debt.
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According to the nonprofit Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, Georgia is one of only two states that doesn’t offer state aid programs weighted to financial need.
"In 2009, tuition accounted for less than a third of general funding for the University of Georgia System's schools. In 2017, 46 percent of that general revenue came from families," The AJC and Hechinger Report found.
They also noted that the cost of attending college in the state has grown at one of the fastest rates over the last decade. In 2006, the average cost of attendance at Georgia’s public colleges, including fees plus room and board, was $8,361. In 2015, the cost grew to $14,791.
Of the 125,000 students who left Georgia schools with debt and without a degree between 2014 and 2016, the cost of attending college was a significant contributing factor in the decision to drop out.
Read more from The AJC and Hechinger Report.
The 10 places with the most student loan debt, according to Lending Tree:
- Washington, D.C.
- Richmond, Virginia
- Raleigh, North Carolina
- Akron, Ohio
- Little Rock, Arkansas
- Birmingham, Alabama
- Jackson, Mississippi
- Columbia, South Carolina
- Charleston, South Carolina
Explore the full study and its methodology at lendingtree.com.