Prestigious, selective, world-ranked are all ways to describe Stanford University. Add this to the list: bargain -- at least by some measures.
Students who graduated from Stanford with a bachelor's degree had the lowest debt burden in the Bay Area and the fourth lowest in California. The average Stanford student's total debt of almost $13,700 was less than several public universities that have far lower tuition fees.
Students at San Jose State University finished their college careers with an average of about $17,700 in debt. Four years at San Jose State University costs about $31,000, significantly less than Stanford's one-year tuition of almost $53,000.
The debt figures come from preliminary loan data released late last month by the U.S. Department of Education. The data includes the average federal loan debt for students that graduated in the 2016-17 school year, broken down by their majors and universities. This news organization analyzed data for four-year public and private colleges in the nine-county Bay Area.
The University of California, Berkeley, had the second-lowest debt burden for students in the Bay Area at about $14,800, followed by San Jose State and San Francisco State. Graduates from the Academy of Art University, a private, for-profit school in San Francisco, had the highest average debt for a bachelor's degree at just under $37,300.
Stanford's low-debt standing isn't surprising to Karen Cooper, director of financial aid at the university. But she said it wasn't always the case. A decade ago, about two-thirds of Stanford students were graduating with an average of almost $20,000 in loans.
"Ten years ago, we stopped expecting students to borrow as part of their financial aid package," Cooper said. "We do expect students to work to meet some of their expenses over the summer and during the academic year, but any remaining need after that student responsibility is considered, we meet with scholarship funds."
In the past year, 81% of all students who graduated from Stanford with a bachelor's degree did so without any loans at all, she said. Students whose parents make less than $125,000 pay no tuition at the school -- and those with incomes under $65,000 pay no tuition or room and board.
"I like to say the hard part is getting admitted," Cooper said. "The funding, we can figure that out."
Students who do get loans now generally do so to cover their parents' obligation toward tuition or as a way to finance things such as taking unpaid internships, according to Cooper. She sees that as a good use of loans that can enhance a student's career without creating an excessive financial burden.