The class of 2012 entered a tough jobs market buckling under an average debt load of $29,400, according to the annual report from the Institute for College Access and Success. That's up from an average $26,600 in 2011, and the rise can be blamed on rising tuition fees combined with stagnant family incomes. The struggling economy is a "double-edged sword in many ways because (students) and their parents have fewer resources to pay for college costs, which may lead them to take on more debt," the institute's research director tells USA Today. "And then they're entering a down economy where it's hard to find a good job that allows them to repay the debt."
A recent study found that parents now cover an average 27% of college costs, down from 37% just three years ago. The institute's report, however, found huge variation in the debt loads from state to state and college to college, with graduates at some institutions carrying an average of $50,000 in debt while others had an average less than a tenth of that, the New York Times reports. Student debt tended to be highest in Eastern states, with Delaware grads the most indebted at an average of $34,000 each. New Mexico graduates had the lowest debt; an average of $18,000. But the class of 2012 isn't the most indebted graduating class in history: That dubious honor goes to the class of 2013. (Read more student debt stories.)