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Spring is an exciting time of year for college-bound high school students and their families, with acceptance letters showing up in mailboxes and email inboxes. But before deciding which school they’ll head off to next fall, students and their families must evaluate the financial aid offers they receive from each school.

Every school’s financial aid offer should make it clear how much a student’s first year of college will cost. For most students, it will also show how much they’ll need to borrow. But the financial aid offer won’t tell students what they can expect to earn after graduation, or how much debt might be reasonable to take on.

How much of a burden debt places on a student depends not just on how much they borrow, but how much they earn after they graduate. To help students and their families evaluate their options, Credible has ranked 114 four-year universities in California by analyzing recent students’ debt-to-income (DTI) ratios. The lower the (DTI) ratio, the better.

Here are the charts and data you’ll find below:

Main findings

When borrowing for college, an old rule of thumb is not to take on more debt than your expected annual salary at graduation. So graduating with a student loan DTI above 1.0 could be problematic.

Some key takeaways from 114 school analyzed:

  • Average student loan DTI: 0.60
  • Percentage of for-profit schools with below-average DTI: 67%
  • Number of schools with a DTI of 1.0 or higher: 10

Another widely tracked metric is the percentage of students who are able to repay at least $1 in loan principal within three years of leaving school. At schools with higher DTIs, a smaller proportion of students are able to repay at least $1 in student loan debt within 3 years of graduation.


Lowest debt-to-income ratio*

1.California Institute of Technology: 0.16
2. Stanford University: 0.16
3. Samuel Merritt University: 0.19
4. Trident University International: 0.24
5. Pomona College: 0.24
6. Claremont McKenna College: 0.25
7. University of California-Berkeley: 0.28
8. Loma Linda University: 0.29
9. Harvey Mudd College: 0.32
10. University of California-Davis: 0.32

Highest debt-to-income ratio*

105. San Francisco Art Institute: 1.02
106. SUM Bible College and Theological Seminary: 1.06
107. Cogswell College: 1.08
108. Laguna College of Art and Design: 1.08
109. University of Phoenix-California 1.16
110. Academy of Art University: 1.17
111. Humphreys University — Stockton and Modesto: 1.19
112. Ashford University: 1.21
113. Design Institute of San Diego: 1.32
114. Mt Sierra College: 1.84

Lowest debt at graduation

1. California Institute of Technology: $8,700
2. Pomona College: $10,040
3. Stanford University: $11,341
4. Trident University International: $11,761
5. University of California-Davis: $13,000
6. California State University-Los Angeles: $13,381
7. California State University-Monterey Bay: $13,521
8. University of California-Berkeley: $13,750
9. Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey: $13,750
10. Scripps College: $13,900

Highest debt at graduation

105. Art Center College of Design: $31,013
106. DeVry University-California: $31,206
107. Academy of Art University: $31,365
108. University of Phoenix-California: $32,813
109. West Coast University: $33,332
110. Ashford University: $34,375
111. American University of Health Sciences: $37,583
112. Newschool of Architecture and Design: $37,764
113. Mt Sierra College: $39,873
114. Design Institute of San Diego: $42,258

Highest median earnings 6 years after enrollment

1. Samuel Merritt University: $100,100
2. West Coast University: $74,600
3. California State University Maritime Academy: $73,100
4. Harvey Mudd College: $72,500
5. Loma Linda University: $72,000
6. Stanford University: $70,400
7. Golden Gate University-San Francisco: $66,100
8. Santa Clara University: $61,100
9. Claremont McKenna College: $55,900
10. California Institute of Technology: $54,500

Lowest median earnings 6 years after enrollment

105. San Diego Christian College: $27,700
106. Academy of Art University: $26,900
107. California Institute of the Arts: $26,900
108. San Francisco Art Institute: $26,500
109. Humboldt State University: $26,200
110. Humphreys University-Stockton and Modesto: $25,400
111. Laguna College of Art and Design: $24,900
112. Columbia College Hollywood: $23,800
113. SUM Bible College and Theological Seminary: $23,300
114. Mt Sierra College: $21,700

Highest percentage of students repaying at least $1 in debt within 3 years of graduation

1. California State University Maritime Academy: 93.6%
2. Samuel Merritt University: 93.4%
3. Stanford University: 91.6%
4. California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo: 91.5%
5. Santa Clara University: 90.2%
6. Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey: 89.5%
7. Occidental College: 89.4%
8. Bethel Seminary-San Diego: 88.7%
9. University of California-Davis: 88.2%
10. Pitzer College: 87.4%

Lowest percentage of students repaying at least $1 in debt within 3 years of graduation

105. United States University: 53.9%
106. Antioch University-L.A. and Santa Barbara: 52.1%
107. San Francisco Art Institute: 51.6%
108. Pacific Oaks College: 50.5%
109. California Institute of Integral Studies: 46.2%
110. Columbia College Hollywood: 42.9%
111. Humphreys University-Stockton and Modesto: 42.6%
112. Ashford University: 42.1%
113. University of Phoenix-California: 42.1%
114. SUM Bible College and Theological Seminary: 35.1%



*Methodology: This analysis is based on data collected by the Department of Education and made available to the public through College Scorecard. To calculate DTI ratios for each school, Credible divided median student loan debt at graduation by the median earnings of all students who were working and not enrolled in school six years after starting college, including those who did not earn a degree. Data on debt at graduation was collected in 2017 and 2018. Earnings data was collected in 2014 and 2015, and adjusted by the Department of Education to 2017 dollars to account for inflation. Data is for schools that predominantly grant bachelor’s degrees. Schools that did not provide data necessary to calculate debt-to-earnings ratio were excluded. Because earnings also depend on the field of study, students should also use College Scorecard to research debt and earnings by major.

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About the author
Matt Carter
Matt Carter

Matt Carter is a Credible expert on student loans. Analysis pieces he’s contributed to have been featured by CNBC, CNN Money, USA Today, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

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