Study Shows Increase In Student Debt

By Staff
August 12, 2009

A new study indicates that the average amount that college and university students borrow to pay for their higher education has increased, while a growing minority graduate with excessive debt.

The information is contained in a policy brief released this week by the College Board based on data from the U.S. Department of Education's National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS). The median loan debt for bachelor's degree graduates who borrowed was $19,999, a rise of 5 percent from $18,973 four years earlier. Among all students who took out loans, median loan debt rose 11 percent, from $13,663 in 2003-4 to $15,123 four years later. Meanwhile, about ten percent of those who received bachelor's degrees borrowed more than $40,000.

Yet the report also indicated that about a third of the students who earned bachelor's degrees in 2007-8 graduated with no debt--nearly the same as in 2003-4. For those who earned associate degrees, over half graduated with no debt.

"People think students are drowning in debt," noted Sandy Baum, an author of the brief, who was quoted in The New York Times, "and there is a small proportion of students that borrow an exorbitant amount, but most students graduate with a manageable debt load."

Not surprisingly, some of the steepest increases in debt levels were reflected by students enrolled in for-profit two- and four-year institutions. Students who received certificates in for-profit programs carried a median debt of $9,744 in 2007-8, up 30 percent from 2003-4. Similarly, those who received bachelor's degrees at for-profit institutions had a median debt of $32,653, an increase of 23 percent from four years earlier.

The Times also pointed out that the brief does not include credit-card debt, informal loans from family or friends, graduate school debt or parents' borrowing.

"We are asking people to bear more and more of the cost of higher education through borrowing, since neither state spending, need-based aid, or family incomes have kept up with the costs," noted Lauren Asher, president of the Project on Student Debt, who was quoted in the Times.

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