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Student debt is a hot-button issue this election season, and a daily struggle for millions of graduates collectively dealing with over $1.2 trillion worth of student debt.

For many students, taking out loans is the only way they can afford higher education — but not all colleges are created equal. While some schools produce high-earning alumni, students from other colleges get stuck with low incomes and struggle to pay off their loans. In some cases, earnings are so low that students cannot pay back the debt at all, and must default on their loans.


StartClass, an education research site powered by Graphiq, found the 59 colleges where the highest percentage of students are defaulting on their loans. Using data from the College Scorecard project, a White House-sponsored program that delves into “national data on cost, graduation, debt and post-college earnings,” StartClass ranked 59 schools by their 3-year default rate. To be considered, each school had to have at least 15,000 undergraduate students enrolled and offer four-year degree programs. The school’s three-year repayment rate is also noted, as well as the median earnings of former students who received federal financial aid 10 years after entering the school.

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These 59 colleges each reported an 8 percent or higher three-year default rate. Schools in one Southern state take up seven of the first 12 spots and the worst schools average a 20 percent default rate. Additionally, the average earnings for alumni who received federal aid from these schools is about $36,500. With up to one in five students defaulting on their loans, and low earnings reported, potential students may want to pause before considering applying to these schools.

Note: When the default rate between schools was equal, the school with the largest undergraduate enrollment was ranked higher.

59. Oklahoma State University

  • Location: Stillwater, Okla.
  • 3-year default rate: 8 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 85.6 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $43,400

58. Ball State University

  • Location: Muncie, Ind.
  • 3-year default rate: 8.1 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 84.5 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $39,000

57. Weber State University

  • Location: Ogden, Utah
  • 3-year default rate: 8.1 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 82.6 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $42,400

56. University of Alabama

  • Location: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
  • 3-year default rate: 8.1 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 81.5 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $42,400

55. Mississippi State University

  • Location: Starkville, Miss.
  • 3-year default rate: 8.3 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 81 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $39,600

54. Arizona State University-Tempe

  • Location: Tempe, Ariz.
  • 3-year default rate: 8.5 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 80.3 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $45,200

53. Georgia State University

  • Location: Atlanta, Ga.
  • 3-year default rate: 8.5 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 72.7 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $41,500

52. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

  • Location: Indianapolis, Ind.
  • 3-year default rate: 8.6 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 78.4 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $39,100

51. Kennesaw State University

  • Location: Kennesaw, Ga.
  • 3-year default rate: 8.6 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 78.2 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $41,300

50. University of Nevada, Las Vegas

  • Location: Las Vegas, Nev.
  • 3-year default rate: 8.8 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 75.2 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $43,500

49. Florida International University

  • Location: Miami, Fla.
  • 3-year default rate: 8.9 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 78.1 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $45,100

48. Georgia Southern University

  • Location: Statesboro, Ga.
  • 3-year default rate: 8.9 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 76.4 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $39,300

47. University of Maryland University College

  • Location: Upper Marlboro, Md.
  • 3-year default rate: 9 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 65.6 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $50,700

46. Utah Valley University

  • Location: Orem, Utah
  • 3-year default rate: 9.1 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 79.8 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $43,500

45. Northern Illinois University

  • Location: DeKalb, Ill.
  • 3-year default rate: 9.4 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 83.3 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $43,900

44. Texas State University

  • Location: San Marcos, Texas
  • 3-year default rate: 9.4 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 80.2 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $43,700

43. University of Louisville

  • Location: Louisville, Ky.
  • 3-year default rate: 9.6 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 77.8 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $37,700

42. California State University, San Bernardino

  • Location: San Bernardino, Calif.
  • 3-year default rate: 9.7 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 73.4 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $45,500

41. University of Texas at El Paso

  • Location: El Paso, Texas
  • 3-year default rate: 9.8 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 74.6 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $39,800

40. University of North Texas

  • Location: Denton, Texas
  • 3-year default rate: 10 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 78.4 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $42,100

39. University of Cincinnati

  • Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
  • 3-year default rate: 10 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 75.5 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $39,400

38. Northern Arizona University

  • Location: Flagstaff, Ariz.
  • 3-year default rate: 10.2 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 76 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $38,800

37. West Virginia University

  • Location: Morgantown, W.Va.
  • 3-year default rate: 10.5 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 79.6 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $43,900

36. Sam Houston State University

  • Location: Huntsville, Texas
  • 3-year default rate: 10.5 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 77.8 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $41,400

35. University of Central Oklahoma

  • Location: Edmond, Okla.
  • 3-year default rate: 10.5 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 76.2 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $38,400

34. University of Texas at San Antonio

  • Location: San Antonio, Texas
  • 3-year default rate: 11 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 76.4 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $44,100

33. Boise State University

  • Location: Boise, Idaho
  • 3-year default rate: 11.4 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 75.8 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $35,300

32. Middle Tennessee State University

  • Location: Murfreesboro, Tenn.
  • 3-year default rate: 11.6 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 73.9 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $36,100

31. Miami Dade College

  • Location: Miami, Fla.
  • 3-year default rate: 12.2 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 68.4 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $30,500

30. Broward College

  • Location: Davie, Fla.
  • 3-year default rate: 12.3 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 62.4 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $33,400

29. University of Texas-Pan American

  • Location: Edinburg, Texas
  • 3-year default rate: 12.4 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 72.6 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $40,500

28. University of Memphis

  • Location: Memphis, Tenn.
  • 3-year default rate: 12.4 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 58.6 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $37,000

27. Wayne State University

  • Location: Detroit, Mich.
  • 3-year default rate: 12.5 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 59.6 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $41,500

26. Eastern Michigan University

  • Location: Ypsilanti, Mich.
  • 3-year default rate: 12.9 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 70.9 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $37,300

25. University of New Mexico

  • Location: Albuquerque, N.M.
  • 3-year default rate: 13 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 70.3 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $35,900

24. American Public University System

  • Location: Charles Town, W.Va.
  • 3-year default rate: 13 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 59.6 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: N/A

23. Troy University

  • Location: Troy, Ala.
  • 3-year default rate: 13.2 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 54.4 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $36,600

22. Columbia College

  • Location: Columbia, Mo.
  • 3-year default rate: 13.3 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 64.9 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $37,600

21. Metropolitan State University of Denver

  • Location: Denver, Colo.
  • 3-year default rate: 13.4 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 71 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $38,600

20. University of Toledo

  • Location: Toledo, Ohio
  • 3-year default rate: 13.5 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 67.3 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $40,200

19. University of Akron

  • Location: Akron, Ohio
  • 3-year default rate: 13.5 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 66 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $34,800

18. Western Kentucky University

  • Location: Bowling Green, Ky.
  • 3-year default rate: 13.7 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 66.4 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $34,600

17. New York City College of Technology

  • Location: Brooklyn, N.Y.
  • 3-year default rate: 14.1 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 64.1 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $37,700

16. Miami University

  • Location: Oxford, Ohio
  • 3-year default rate: 14.7 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 74.6 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $45,800

15. Kent State University

  • Location: Kent, Ohio
  • 3-year default rate: 14.7 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 69 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $36,600

14. Keiser University

  • Location: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
  • 3-year default rate: 14.9 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 46.8 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $29,600

13. Ohio University

  • Location: Athens, Ohio
  • 3-year default rate: 15 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 70 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $39,500

12. Ashford University

  • Location: San Diego, Calif.
  • 3-year default rate: 15.3 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 43 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $37,500

11. Grand Canyon University

  • Location: Phoenix, Ariz.
  • 3-year default rate: 15.8 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 39.9 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $45,200

10. Florida State College at Jacksonville

  • Location: Jacksonville, Fla.
  • 3-year default rate: 17.7 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 56 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $32,100

9. Seminole State College of Florida

  • Location: Sanford, Fla.
  • 3-year default rate: 18 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 53 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $32,300

8. DeVry University-Illinois

  • Location: Downers Grove, Ill.
  • 3-year default rate: 18.5 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 54.5 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: N/A

7. Palm Beach State College

  • Location: Lake Worth, Fla.
  • 3-year default rate: 19.3 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 56.5 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $31,500

6. Full Sail University

  • Location: Winter Park, Fla.
  • 3-year default rate: 19.9 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 57.5 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $34,100

5. College of Southern Nevada

  • Location: Henderson, Nev.
  • 3-year default rate: 20.2 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 49.5 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $31,900

4. Valencia College

  • Location: Orlando, Fla.
  • 3-year default rate: 20.3 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 53.8 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $32,100

3. Kaplan University-Davenport Campus

  • Location: Davenport, Iowa
  • 3-year default rate: 20.4 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 35.7 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $34,400

2. Everest University-South Orlando

  • Location: Orlando, Fla.
  • 3-year default rate: 21.5 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 22 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $25,300

1. St. Petersburg College

  • Location: St. Petersburg, Fla.
  • 3-year default rate: 21.9 percent
  • 3-year repayment rate: 52.4 percent
  • Median earnings of alumni who received financial aid: $32,000
Tessa Boyce, StartClass |