Average student loan debt jumped more than 10% between 2011 and 2012, according to data from the nonprofit advocacy group Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS).
The group learned that seven in 10 college seniors graduated last year with student debt averaging $29,400.
The average debt in some states reached as high as $33,650; others as low as $18,000. Colleges had average student debt levels ranging from $4,450 to $49,450. For 2011, by comparison, TICAS found that 68% of students who graduated in 2011 had accrued some amount of debt, but the average was $26,600.
TICAS used data provided by public and private nonprofit four-year universities to calculate state- and college-level debt averages. Colleges are not required by law to report their own graduates' debt.
For-profit colleges, which accounted for 7% of 2012 bachelor's recipients, are not included in these estimates because virtually none chose to share their data, TICAS officials reported.
Only nine of 584 for-profit, four-year, bachelor's-granting colleges reported figures for students who graduated in 2012. Still, national data show that 88% of graduates from for-profit colleges took out student loans, and borrowed 43% more than other students, the report says.
TICAS offered recommendations to help students - including building awareness for federal loan repayment plans and allowing students to apply for federal financial aid earlier.
"Despite discouraging headlines, a college degree remains the best route to finding a job in this tight market.
But students and families need to know that debt levels can vary widely from college to college," said TICAS President Lauren Asher, in a statement.
If students need to take out loans to pay for college, Asher said, federal loans provide more consumer protections and have more flexible repayment options - such as the Income-Based Repayment plan and the Pay As You Earn plan. Still, TICAS found that one-fifth of student loan debt comes from private loans.
Along with the lack of data from for-profit colleges, TICAS states that other holes prevent the federal government and other organizations from providing an entirely complete picture of the state of student loan debt.
College-level debt figures may be underestimated because those numbers don't take into account transfer students, and can miss private loans students have that the college may not know about. Additionally, state averages may be higher than reported because those figures are based off of available college data.
The state with the highest average student debt in 2012 was Delaware, with $33,649. New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Rhode Island also all carried average student debt levels of more than $30,000.
New Mexico had the lowest level of student debt in 2012, at $17,994.