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15 schools with the highest student loan default rate

Where students struggle with debt the most — and what to do about it.


The federal government considers your student loans in default if you missed repayments by 270 days. While it’s your responsibility to pay back your loans, picking a school that can prepare you well enough for your future career can affect your chances of defaulting. And if you’ve already defaulted, there are steps you can take to recover.

15 schools with the highest default rate on federal student loans

Below are the schools that had the highest federal student loan cohort default rate in 2015, according to the most recent numbers from the Department of Education (DoE).

School Default rate Number of defaults
Champ’s Barber School 57.6% 34
Family of Faith Christian University 50% 7
Larry’s Barber College 50% 23
Tomorrow’s Image Barber & Beauty Academy of Virginia 48.3% 15
Cheryl Fell’s School of Business 47% 24
Theological University of the Caribbean 45.4% 15
Sharp Edgez Barber Institute 45.2% 33
United Tribes Technical College 41.7% 56
Advance Beauty Techs Academy 40.4% 19
Centro De Estudios Universitarios Xochicalco 39.5% 36
Nashville Barber and Style Academy 39.4% 15
Ambiance Beauty & Barber Academy 38.9% 23
Alaska Christian College 38.8% 14
The Paul Mitchell School — Roanoke, VA 37.8% 14
Rob Roy Academy — New Bedford, MA 37.8% 28

Source: Department of Education

The DoE’s cohort rate is the number of students who go into repayment on federal loans and default within a year. The rate of default from all graduates — including private student loans — is likely higher across the board.

15 schools with the highest number of defaults on federal student loans

The rate of default doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of students default — only seven students defaulted at the school with the second-highest rate. Below are the schools that had the highest number of defaults in 2015, according to the same DoE data.

School Number of defaults Default rate
University of Phoenix 17,127 12.3%
Altierus Career College — Tampa, FL 7,888 28.4%
Ashford University 5,436 13.5%
Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana 5,209 18.9%
American Public University System 5,177 23.8%
Purdue University Global 5,116 13.7%
DeVry University 4,118 11.2%
Ross Medical Education Center — Brighton, MI 3,871 23.1%
The Art Institute of Phoenix 3,653 23.2%
Platt College — Tulsa, OK 3,391 20.6%
Colorado Technical University 3,248 19.6%
Argosy University 3,079 15.5%
Liberty University 3,061 9.2%
Virginia College 2,939 20.4%

Source: Department of Education

Public vs. private schools: Which has a lower default rate?

Private schools have a lower default rate than public schools overall: 10.3% of public school students defaulted versus 7.1% of private school borrowers.

However, public schools had a lower rate for programs that ran for less than two years. Some 11.7% of public school students in these short programs defaulted versus 22% at private schools.

7 ways to reduce your risk of defaulting on your student loans

If you’re worried about becoming one of these statistics, there are steps you can take to minimize that risk:

  • Consider the return on investment. Default rates don’t tell you everything — compare the average salary of recent grads and the employment rate to the cost of a school before you apply.
  • Fill out the FAFSA. Not only does federal student aid include grants and work-study in addition to competitive loans, but it’s a requirement for many scholarships as well.
  • Apply for scholarships and grants. Your school might offer funding that it doesn’t automatically consider all students for. Talk to the financial aid department to learn what your options are to lower your debt load.
  • Research outside funding. Don’t limit yourself to scholarships and grants offered at your school. Government agencies and private organizations also provide funding you can apply for.
  • Consider an income-share agreement. This student loan alternative allows you pay a percentage of your income after you graduate and find a job for a fixed number of years instead of tuition. You might pay more than you would if you get a high-paying job, but there’s no risk of defaulting.
  • Start repayments in school. Making small repayments toward your student loans while in school can significantly decrease your debt load, especially if you have unsubsidized loans.
  • Apply for federal loans first. Private loans typically have significantly less flexible terms and consider your loan to be in default sooner than the DoE.

How to avoid defaulting on a delinquent loan

Lenders consider your loan to be delinquent as soon as you miss that first repayment. It can hurt your credit, but it’s not nearly as bad as a default. There are several steps you might be able to take to avoid defaulting when you’re behind on payments:

  • Talk to your servicer. Reach out to the company that handles your student loan repayments to explain the situation and find out if you can adjust your term for lower repayments.
  • Apply for deferment or forbearance. Got a temporary cashflow problem? Most servicers let you temporarily pause repayments until you’re back on your feet.
  • Switch your repayment plan on federal loans. When forbearance doesn’t cut it, switching to an income-based or extended repayment plan can make your loan more affordable in the short term.
  • Consider refinancing private loans. Some private lenders are more flexible than others — if yours won’t bend, another might. This option is best if you haven’t missed a repayment yet but might, since that can affect your eligibility.

Compare student loan refinancing offers

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Min. Credit Score Max. Loan Amount APR
SoFi Student Loan Refinancing Variable Rate (with Autopay)
Full balance of your qualified education loans
2.25% to 6.09%
A leader in student loan refinancing, SoFi can help you refinance your loans and pay them off sooner.
Purefy Student Loan Refinancing (Variable Rate)
2.27% to 7.49%
Refinance all types of student loans — including federal and parent PLUS loans.
Credible Student Loan Refinancing
Good to excellent credit
1.99% to 9.24%
Get prequalified offers from top student loan refinancing providers in one place.
Splash Financial Student Loan Refinancing
1.89% to 6.66%
Save on your student loans with this market-leading newcomer.
Education Loan Finance Student Loan Refinancing
2.39% to 6.01%
Lower your student debt costs with manageable payments, affordable rates and flexible terms.
Earnest Student Loan Refinancing
1.99% to 5.34%
Get a tailored interest rate and repayment plan with no hidden fees.

Compare up to 4 providers

How to recover from a defaulted student loan

You have a handful of options when you’ve defaulted on your student loans. Federal loan borrowers can get out of default by signing up for rehabilitation or consolidating with a Direct Consolidation Loan.

With private loans, your choices are limited. You might be able to refinance with another lender by bringing on a cosigner. If not, reach out to your servicer to discuss the situation. They might be willing to offer another repayment plan or settle for an upfront payment of a smaller amount.

Bottom line

A school with a high student loan default rate or high number of defaults should set off some alarm bells about the quality of education it offers. But it’s not the only factor you should consider when applying to school. It’s possible for anyone to default if you don’t fit repayments into your budget.

You can find out more about how student loans work by checking out our guide.

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