DC Student Loan Debt Highest in the Nation

by Prince Of Petworth February 14, 2013 at 1:30 pm 81 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user philliefan99

Thanks to a reader for sending this depressing fact from the Washington Business Journal:

“The average balance among District residents with student loan debt in January was $47,390, compared with the national average of $29,339. Maryland ranks second highest, with average student loan debt of $33,727.”

  • Anonymous

    Makes sense considering we’re the most educated.

  • KenyonDweller

    I wish my student loan debt were only $47k.

    • Anonymous

      Wow. I feel sorry for you.

      • KenyonDweller

        Thanks, but don’t feel sorry for me. I’m a lawyer and doing ok. I just want to pay it all off before I retire, that’s all.

        • Anonymous

          Feel sorry for me. I have 100K in student debt and I am not a lawyer. I’ll never be able to afford to have a kid and no man will want to marry me with that type of debt.

          • Anonymous

            how did that happen?

          • Anonymous

            My husband married me when I had $94K in outstanding student loans.

          • Anonymous

            It may not be as bad as you think. Student loan debt is far from the worse kind of debt you could possibly have.

          • blur

            Not a lawyer, work in the nonprofit sector for a good but not great salary. I moved to DC at age 23 with about $90,000 in student debt and I’ll have it paid off in 3 years (when I turn 36). The payments have always been an albatross, but it’s doable.

    • i’m right there with you. grad school loans are kicking my butt.

    • CJ

      On a liberal arts degree no less…. Good luck with that.

    • CJ

      Thank god for ROTC and state schools.

      I have a BS and MS in Systems Engineering that was 100% paid for. I even had a just under six figure salary paid to me while I was a full time grad student.

      It honestly shocks me to see so many people continue to go the small school Liberal Arts route. Outside of Law School (and loads more debit) what options does that route leave open for you?

      There really needs to be a more education given to high school and 1st year college students on exactly what they are getting themselves into.

      • Umm small school liberal arts schools do have science majors and other “useful” majors such as economics. You do know that right? And that there are lots of people that go to those state schools and are in ROTC programs that study “useless” majors such as pysch and sociology?

        I went to a small liberal arts school for my first year of college and can say it provided an excellent education (I transferred for other reasons). It was well known for its, :gasp: forestry and geology programs. Or are those not useful either in your estimation?

        I get your general point and agree that there should be more education and info on choosing your college, but you come across as pretty ill-informed about liberal arts colleges.

        • That first sentence of mine was poorly written, my apologies. Apparently I should have spent a 2nd year at a liberal arts college.

          • Anonymous

            He/she said “It honestly shocks me to see so many people continue to go the small school Liberal Arts route.” Meaning people that go to small (expensive) schools and major in Liberal Arts (regardless of whether other majors are offered).

          • CJ

            I was to vague, I meant a liberal arts degree. I guess I should have taken less calculus and more writing comp.

            True, there are solid majors and small schools, and Liberal Arts majors at big schools. I shoudln’t have painted with such a wide brush.

      • Anonymous

        Similar story here– I went to a big state school for undergrad and got a BS in Electrical Engineering. I was lucky and had parents that paid the tuition, but it was a state school and I had scholarships so it only came to about $8k a year which I could have paid for with my part-time jobs.

        My employer paid for my Masters degree because advanced engineering degrees are so valuable. I had to work full-time while going to school it so it took six years, but not having the debt was worth it. Even though the financial burden was not on me I chose George Mason over George Washington because GW is much more expensive and (in my opinoin) not worth it regardless of who’s paying.

        I don’t understand why so many students continue to go to expensive schools and get degrees that don’t translate to real jobs. Engineering would not have been my first choice, if I had decided to pursue what I’m most interested in, but when so much time and money is being invested I think it pays to be a bit practical about it.

        • guesty

          “I don’t understand why so many students continue to go to expensive schools and get degrees that don’t translate to real jobs.”
          Because they expect their family and/or the taxpayer to bail them out, or at the very least shake their heads empathetically at how unfair society is for allowing student debt to exist.

          • Anonymous

            On the contrary, I think a lot of these folks are in denial. They believe they’ll be the one-in-a-million person who will have a successful career as an art historian or sociologist. Kids are always being told to follow their passion, but rarely does someone remind them that there needs to be a demand for that passion if they want to make a career out of it.

          • Anonymous

            My old roommate was finishing his law degree and taking out additional loans to study for the bar, with every intent to carry his severe debt with him throughout life and never pay it off. Disgusting attitude of entitlement by a disgusting person.

          • Anonymous

            I have a philosophy degree and made over $300,000 last year. I’m 38 and got where I am through hard work and frankly through the critical thinking skills I learned studying philosophy. It happens.

        • jcm

          I think treating college like a trade- or vocational school is a mistake. Lots of people get good real jobs even if they didn’t major in something like engineering.

          I studied computer science, and in hindsight I wish I would have had a classical liberal arts education, even though I like being a programmer. I feel like I missed out on something valuable.

          • CJ

            You might be the first person I’ve ever heard make a statement like this.

            It helps you become a more rounded and engaged person. (Something a lot of developers can use help with). I tried to take one liberal arts class a semester in school. It usually ended up being my favorite class, but in reality I didn’t get much more out of it then if I did the readings on my own.
            But the beauty is you can pretty much get a solid liberal arts degree for $2.50 in late charges at the public library.

            It’s a hell of a lot harderto learn C++ or fluid dynamics on your own.

          • Anonymous

            Yes, but with an actual liberal arts degree you could have developed the rational faculty needed to create your own argument without resorting to quoting Matt Damon.

          • Anonymous

            Ditto what CJ said. My engineering curriculum wouldn’t allow me to learn a foreign language (not if I wanted to graduate in 4 years, anyway), but now I’m taking classes through the Global Language Network and studying on my own for practically nothing. And I don’t think my self-taught photography skills are drastically different than what a photography student would learn in school.

          • I had the same dilemma, but I was fortunate that my school let me put together a program that allowed me to get a double major: one in a STEM field and one in the social sciences. Though to be honest, it’s the STEM background that keeps me employed today.

      • Anonther

        One thing nobody seems to understand is that most people don’t pay the full ticket price at many private colleges because of financial aid. It often ends up being LESS expensive than a state school. That was true for me, I paid a lot less to go to a private college with a MUCH higher list price than my sister paid to go to our state university.

        • Anonymous

          Yes, in my experience this was very true (about 8 years ago). Private schools have higher tuition but they also have more resources to offer scholarships so in the end, you may end up paying less. My advice to current high school grads would definitely be to apply to both private and public.

        • Ditto. I got almost a full ride at my small liberal arts school. And a solid education that’s enabled me to pursue a career using those “soft” liberal arts skills.

      • Anonymous

        I’ve experienced both small and large schools from both sides of the classroom. This is a generality and there are of course exceptions, but in general liberal arts colleges can offer much better training in how to think and write because of their smaller size. And that translates into lots and lots of options.

        • CJ

          In all honesty, what are some of those options?

          Law School, Acadamia…??

          Go into Monster.com.

          Search – “Reading and Writing”

          Now Search – “Computer Science”

          That’s reality.

          • Anonymous

            The difference is perhaps that people with those skills are not as literal as you are being, and can see how to sell those skills in a less obvious way.

          • An engineer being stubbornly literal and narrow-minded to the point of absurdity? Now I’ve heard everything.

      • Anonymous

        Some small liberal arts schools offer the highest return on investment. I know lots of those poor small liberal arts school grads (who didn’t go to law school) who make a ton of money, because they learned things like critical thinking, and that “Liberal Arts” and “Law School” don’t need such aggressive capitalization.

        • Anonymous

          Such a useful skill to have.

        • CJ

          What are some examples of this?

          Really, I’m asking no joke.

          I’m sure they are out there. We live in DC, the land of spining a Poly Sci degree into a internship on the hill, into a staffer position, into a lobbyist. And boom. There’s a nice living. I’m not discounting that at all.

          But who elese is out there recruting kids with a Engligh Lit degree into well paying jobs because “They know how to THINK man!!”

          On the other hand I just interviewed a kid from UVA (Go Hoos!) who stayed a 5th year to get his MS in Systems Engineering. We have him a $9000 signing bonus and he will be making $80k his first year out of school.

          • Anonymous

            Investment banks, consulting firms, corporate management training programs, etc.

          • Anonymous

            My English and history major friends from college are execs at IBM, American Express, tech people at IBM and with the feds.

            What you should be learning in college is how to think and communicate. The content (for comp sci, engineering, etc.) will change, but thinking is a forever skill.

      • Anonymous

        There was a time when people who wanted to learn as an end in itself attended a Liberal Arts school whilst those who conceived of learning as skill acquisition for the end of employment went to Trade school. It is a pity that in the push to get more of the population through the diploma mills that colleges and universities have become (i) learning for its own sake as part of a full human experience has been so There was a time when people who wanted to learn as an end in itself attended a liberal arts school whilst those who conceived of learning as skill acquisition for the end of employment went to trade school. It is a pity that in the push to get more of the population through the diploma mills that colleges and universities have become (i) learning for its own sake as part of a full human experience has been so denigrated and (ii) purely job training routes have withered. Bring back the trade schools for those who cannot fathom the desire for a liberal arts rounding. After all, what need could a systems engineer possibly have for an analysis of the allegory of the cave, for example.

      • Anonymous

        Here’s what I find frustrating whenever I hear the argument that it makes so little sense to pursue liberal arts majors versus STEM majors: not everyone can be a scientist or a mathemetician (or another profession, like engineering, that relies heavily on science and math). I personally was always terrible at science and math; I was able to get by in classes that were considered “honors” at the high school level, and I managed to pass (barely) high school calculus, but my brain just cannot grasp the advanced-level math that I would have encountered in any college STEM program. Not everyone can or should pursue those fields–and we DO still need some diversity of skills and academic backgrounds in our workforce, the growth of STEM-related occupations notwithstanding. (I say this as someone who majored in a social science at a small liberal arts college–and I promise, my job is very “real.”)

        Having said that, I do agree that there needs to be more transparency about career options and the real, long-term costs (in the form of student loan payments) BEFORE kids get to college instead of after they graduate. It’s hard to really think clearly about your future when you’re 18 (not that it gets much easier when you’re 35! 😉 )–especially when kids are getting told things like “find your dream school!” and “don’t worry about the sticker price!” by college admissions representatives.

        • Anonymous

          I do think colleges should require less math for STEM majors because it’s not a skill that most of us ever use in our jobs, and it makes those majors unappealing to the math-adverse who might otherwise like them.

          But I also think there’s a problem with American children being taught, from a very young age, that math and science are difficult and that only a few people are good at those subjects. It’s an attitude that is discouraging, particularly to girls. I almost fell into that trap myself.

          No one should major in something they dislike just for the job prospects, but I guidance counselors should encourage high school students to look beyond the coursework associated with a degree and think about what an actual job in that field would be like.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, lots of lawyers, lots of 100+K debt. Not a surprise.

  • Victoria

    I’d give my left arm to have only $47K. Triple that is way closer to what I’m dealing with.

  • gloomingdale

    Cmonnnnnnn public service loan forgiveness!

    • Yup, I consolidated into a 30-year loan to keep my payments as low as possible. After 10 years of service, I will get rid of the remaining 20 years of payments.

      Hopefully they don’t nix that benefit in the sequestration! *crosses fingers*

      • jcm

        My wife is on the same plan. We have to file our taxes separately, but it’s worth it. If she had to pay the standard repayment amount we’d have a real problem.

        The college tuition/student loan situation in this country is out of control.

        • How does the forgiveness work?

          • Consolidate your government loans. Make payments for 10 years. You have 3 payment options I believe. After that, whatever is outstanding is forgiven. What steps you have to do at that point is TBD since the program isn’t 10 years old yet. I’d advise googling “public service student loan forgiveness” for more info.

          • Anonymous

            You have to pay taxes on the amount that is forgiven because it is considered income.

          • jcm

            No, you don’t have to pay taxes the amount forgiven under PSLF or the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program. You can get more info here.


          • Also, it doesn’t count for private loans (sorry doctors, lawyers, and MBAs who exceeded federal borrowing limits).

  • Started at 59k between my wife and I, and we are down to 8,800. Should be finished later this year. Grad school for me was 2/3 of it, and her undergrad was the other 1/3.

  • lynn

    That’s what you get when you attend “Mercedes brand schools” just to brag and your family has no money to back it up. If you want to move up in society’s pecking order — there is a price to be paid.

    • anon

      This might be the most snobbish/elitist post I’ve ever seen on PoP.

      • guesty

        That doesn’t make it untrue.

        • anon

          That’s assuming that you buy the idea that an Ivy League degree “elevates” you socially.

          A prestigious degree makes a difference in some areas — e.g., a degree from a prestigious law school is necessary to get a job at a prestigious law firm, and the top consulting firms will take only graduates from certain schools — but not in most areas.

          If your goal is to be a “society hostess,” then you might need to subscribe to this kind of snobbery. But for most of us, “society” is the people we want to hang out with, not the people who are featured in Washingtonian.

        • Anonymous

          No, but what makes it partly untrue (not to mention snobbish) is the assumption that people–especially people whose parents have no money–are going to “Mercedes-brand schools” for the sake of bragging. I went to an expensive school–maybe not “Mercedes”-level but perhaps it could be considered one tier down from Ivy League (it was a Seven Sisters school). My parents didn’t have a lot of extra money, and neither they nor anyone else in my family had much experience with higher education. They encouraged me to go to this expensive, “brand-name” school because they truly believed that it was an investment in a more economically stable future for me (ie, it would help me move up the economic ladder from where they were): I would get a better education, have better job opportunities available to me, and become part of a more tight-knit alumnae network with stronger professional connections. Obviously, in hindsight, it’s now unclear whether bigger-name colleges actually deliver all that and are “worth” the cost–and I think this idea has definitely gained currency in the 15 years since I was college-hunting. But I think many parents got sold a bill of goods by the higher education industry–that big-name, expensive schools are the holy grail of opportunity for their children, that the “sticker price” doesn’t matter, etc. etc. It has everything to do with thinking that’s the ticket to a better future and very little to do with self-aggrandizement.

  • Yes, but we’re also the #3 wealthiest city….#2 even when you take into account cost of living. That just makes sense.


    • “The best way to get rich is to spend other people’s money.”

      Word. Every great fortune was built on someone else’s capital. The power of borrowing.

  • “Hightest”, eh? What, exactly, are these DC schools teaching us? 😉

    • Prince Of Petworth

      hahaha oops. Well, to be fair, I’m a product of Long Island’s public school system!

      • Anonymous

        That was great. 🙂

      • Next PoP HH we’ll have to discuss your feelings (if any) about the Islanders moving to Brooklyn in 2015…

  • Anonymous

    My thoughts exactly. There’s a bit of a sampling issue comparing student debt across cities. We’re among (if not the) most education cities in the US so it only makes sense that we have lots of student debt. I’d be curious to see who ranked near the bottom of that list (the article didn’t say). I did a quick google search for lowest student loan burdens by state but didn’t find anything.

    • Better yet, college debt by college degree density in the population. Cause I bet the lowest college debt areas are the areas where no one goes to college.

  • Blithe

    Yep. We have a lot of folks here with graduate and professional degrees –without having the “state school” options for higher education that most Americans who live in actual states have access to. When I graduated from high school, my in-state option was DC Teacher’s College. Friends had access to U Va and the University of MD system. That’s when I first realized the HUGE downside of being a DC native.

    • Anonymous

      I thought DC residents get in-state tuition at any state school in the US – or is this just a rumor?

      • Anonymous

        if they graduated high school here.

      • only for undergrad too. a lot of DC folk are probably taking on new debt for masters or doctorates.

        • Anonymous

          Yeah, I mentioned this on another thread a while back, but having lived most of my adult life (until recently) in New York, when I moved here, I really missed the CUNY system, which offers a huge variety of graduate programs at various campuses with (relatively) affordable in-state tuition rates. (And yes, I know New York is much larger and the CUNY-sized scale of public university system wouldn’t work for DC, but still…I wish there were more in-state options beyond UDC.)

          • lb

            Plus UDC is a terrible, terrible place.

  • Anonymous

    I’m guessing this is because we have tons of lawyers with $100k+ in student loans, but who are making $160k in starting salary and will be just fine.

    • Anonymous

      PPercy would beg to differ.

      • Anonymous

        Haha, well done!

    • Anonymous

      This may have been true 10 years ago. It’s not now. Law schools still turn out 1000s of graduates with that amount of debt every year (although it’s on the decline as people see the value proposition of law school has changed dramatically in the last few years). The number of people pulling down 160k to start, however, is probably 20-30% of what it was a decade ago. I fear there’s a lot of heavy law school debt out there these days, created between 2006 and now, with little prospect of it being paid off courtesy of a law firm. Those firms have changed their models for good, and the new way employs far fewer people.

  • Anonymous

    Gee PoP, thanks a lot for reminding me that it’s time to go pay my student loans. And off I go to the Federal Student Loan Servicing website…. boo.

  • One of those rare times in my life where I can be happy I’m below average…

  • Otis Gal

    I don’t understand how getting an education equates with a sense of entitlement. I’m not in debt because I bought a new car or something material. The more educated society is the better off we all are for it. The fact that education is so expensive should be what is considered outrageous.

    • guesty

      I don’t think anyone’s saying that getting an education equals a sense of entitlement. What rubs a lot of people the wrong way is when folks take on massive amounts of debt to get degrees they should know won’t allow them to pay that debt back and then act surprised, or even angry. To put it bluntly, if you borrowed 100k for a degree in social justice from Harvard and now have difficulties making student loan payments because you earn $30k/year at a non-profit, that’s not society’s fault, it’s your own. And whining about it will look like you have a sense of entitlement.

  • Thrilla

    My parents were shortsighted enough to let me as an 18 year old go to GW when I probably could have gotten about the same education at a state school for free. I really regret it. I can only blame myself though, my parents went gaa-gaa over the school since they never had an opportunity to leave the town they grew up in. I should have been smarter.


Subscribe to our mailing list