Study: Graduate and Professional Degrees Cause 40 Percent of Student Loan Debt

Graduate degree

March 28, 2014

A new report from the New America Foundation's Education Policy Program shows that student loans for graduate degrees play a bigger role in the current student loan debt crisis than most people realize. The report, aptly named The Graduate Student Debt Review, showed that student loan debt caused by loans for graduate and professional degrees currently make up around 40 percent of the $1 trillion plus dollars currently owed nationwide. The report also showed that student loan debt for graduate and professional degrees may be increasing at a faster rate than those for undergraduate degrees as well, noted CBS Washington, which begs the question, "Why?"

"The jump in graduate school borrowing is bigger than I thought it was going to be," author of the report Jason Delisle, director of the Federal Education Budget Project, told CNN. "Are graduate students thinking: I've got less money to get a graduate education, so I should borrow more? My employment prospects look worse, so should I borrow more? That's problematic."

According to CNN, the report shows that median graduate student loan debt rose 43 percent from 2004 to 2012, from $40,200 to $57,600. Certain degrees fared worse in terms of average expense. For example, students who earned a Master of Business degree in 2012 took out an average of $42,000 in student loans in 2012, which is only slightly more than the average for all graduate student loans in 2004. On the other hand, students who graduated with a Master of Arts degree in 2012 took out an average of $58,500.

Graduate degrees in fields known for high-paying positions led students into even more indebtedness, noted Law students, for example, borrowed $128,125 in 2012 compared to only $76,816 in 2004. A similar pattern was also revealed for graduate degrees in medicine and other health sciences, though not quite to the same degree. According to the study, graduate students in medicine and other health sciences took out an average of $103,033 in student loans in 2004, compared to a whopping $135,000 in 2012.

The authors of the study claim to have zeroed in on graduate and professional degrees in order to put the student loan debt crisis into proper context by separating the two different types of student loan debt; undergraduate and graduate.

"Confusing undergraduate with graduate debt in discussions of college costs and student loans is problematic because the two categories of credentials are really quite different and warrant different types and levels of public support," they wrote, adding that "students, families, and taxpayers invest significant resources in financing "college," in large part because a bachelor's or associate degree is a must for anyone who wants to secure a middle-class income."

On the other hand, as the authors of the study argue, graduate and professional degrees do not provide the same foundation for economic opportunity as traditional four-year degrees do. Therefore, student loans taken out by those pursuing graduate and professional degrees should be considered a separate issue from the high costs of college and student loan debt for typical four-year degrees.

Compiled by Holly Johnson


"Graduate student loans are ballooning," CNN Money, March 25, 2014, Jennifer Liberto,

"Loan-ageddon!", March 26, 2014, Jordan Weissman,

New America Education Policy Program, "The Graduate Student Debt Review," Jason Delisle, 2014,

"Report: 40 Percent Of $1 Trillion US Student Loan Debt From Graduate Degrees," CBS Local Washington, March 26, 2014, Benjamin Fearnow,

Career and Education News

Our News Writers and Editors

CityTownInfo Writers and Editors


Follow Us on Facebook
Follow Us on Twitter
Follow Us on Youtube

Career and College Resources on CityTownInfo

Real-World Career Reports

Career Stories from workers: daily activities, job tips, best/worst job aspects, training, etc.
Daily Career & Education News from our staff. We're an approved Google News provider!

Career References and Original Articles

Resource Center. A starting point for all CityTownInfo career and college resources.
Career Overviews of hundreds of careers: descriptions, salaries, forecasts, schools, more.
Best Careers Not Requiring Degrees: Good pay, job growth, low need for degrees.
Helpful Articles, many in "how-to" format; e.g., "How to Become a Chef".
Infographics covering employment and educational trends.

College Directories and Lists

These lists link to thousands of detailed school profiles.

Colleges by State. Nearly every college and trade school in the country.
Colleges Listed Alphabetically. About 7,000 colleges & trade schools, including online schools.
Colleges by Major City. Browse cities with multiple college options.
Online Colleges. Colleges with online degree programs.
Graduate Schools by State. Colleges offering graduate degree programs.
Graduate Schools by Major City. Find cities with multiple graduate school options.