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By Jason Stipp and Adam Zoll | 11-14-2013 12:00 AM

5 College-Savings Stats Worth Studying

Tuition inflation may be waning, but debt still weighs on many recent graduates, reports Morningstar's Adam Zoll.

Jason Stipp: I'm Jason Stipp for Morningstar and welcome to The Friday Five: This week, five college stats worth studying.

Sitting in for Jeremy Glaser is Morningstar's Adam Zoll, who covers college savings for

Thanks for being here, Adam.

Adam Zoll: Thank you, Jason.

Stipp: You have five interesting stats for us today regarding college savings. The first one is interesting, especially because it's lower than we've seen in the past, and that's 2.9%. What is that measuring?

Zoll: That 2.9% figure is the College Board's latest estimate in terms of tuition inflation at colleges around the country.

The College Board every year publishes their annual statistics of what the average cost of college is. This 2.9% increase from the last academic year to the current academic year is actually the lowest rate of tuition inflation since the mid-'70s. That's some welcome news for people who have been looking at this fast-escalating cost of college. In fact, the year before last, the increase was 4.5%. The year before that, it was 8.5%. So 2.9% sounds pretty attractive relative to that. It's still higher than the rate of overall inflation in our economy, but there is some hope that maybe this runaway tuition inflation we've seen in recent years may finally be curbing.

Stipp: Despite definite moderation we're seeing in the college rate of inflation, the next figure that you have, $26,500, is still a pretty high one. What is that $26,500 measuring?

Zoll: The $26,500, also from the College Board, is the average debt load that students who graduated in the 2011-2012 academic year, who took out loans, that's how much they left school owing. That's obviously a substantial amount.

A lot of that increase came from students who attended public schools. In fact, among students who went to four-year public colleges, the average debt load that they graduated school with climbed from about $21,000 to $25,000 in about a three-year time period. A lot of increase there. Again, that is somewhat attributable to this tuition inflation that we just talked about.

The average starting salary for a 2012 graduate is about $44,000-$45,000. So when you're leaving school with $26,000 worth of debt, you're only going to be making in the mid-$40,000s, you can get a real sense of the kind of financial headwinds a lot of students are leaving with.

Stipp: Students graduating with that kind of debt load probably limits the choices that they have after they graduate, which leads to our next statistic, which is 23.3%, which is an interesting one and pretty low, lower than we've seen for a while. What is that measuring?

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