higher education debt


No one doubts the value of a college education (see higher ed overview), but many wonder if costs are getting a bit out of control. College educated people do, on average, make more money and most of the time they are able to pay off their debts within 10 years. Moreover, many people receive money from the government that never has to be paid back. Still, a couple thousand dollars in debt seems no less terrifying to your average 18-25 year old. Below are some stats on college debt and how heavy you all are buried in it.

How much debt are we carrying?

How much debt are undergraduates carrying - on average? (NM)

  • 2002 (everyone): $18,900 (up 66%) vs. 1997: $11,400

By type of school 

  • Private undergrad: $21,200
  • Public undergrad: $17,000
  • Vocational/tech: $15,000

What's the long term effects of debt on graduates?

*note: The following info comes from a study that follows students with or without loans from '92 to '93. This may seem like ages ago but it is one of the only relevant long term studies on how grads stand with or without debt post college. Keep in mind that at that time students could only receive aid through federal loan programs if they had established financial need, meaning a student either came from a low income family or went to a very expensive school. (IES)

Who still owed money as of 2003? (IES)

  • By salary:

    • Lowest: 33.1%

    • Low middle: 30.0%

    • High middle: 22.1%

    • Highest: 19.4%

  • By amount borrowed:

    • Less than $5,000: 5.4 %

    • $5,000-$9,999: 21.9%

    • $10,000-$14,999: 42.0%

    • $15,000 or more: 42.8%

  • By degree:

    • public 4-year: 21.6%

    • private 4-year: 32.6%

Who still owned money and was repaying? (IES)

  • By salary:

    • Lowest: 24.4%

    • Low middle: 27.5%

    • High middle: 21.4%

    • Highest: 18.7%

  • By amount borrowed:

    • Less than $5,000: 4.4 %

    • $5,000-$9,999: 19.7%

    • $10,000-$14,999: 36.3%

    • $15,000 or more: 37.7%

  • By degree:

    • public 4-year: 19.3%

    • private 4-year: 27.8%

Some worry about the effects of loans on students' quality of life. For example, does debt keep people from getting married or affect their employment? Below is some info on borrowers and nonborrowers from '92 and '93 and how they stood in 2003 (IES):


Indicators Borrowers Nonborrowers
Employed 79.9% 79.9%
Median annual salary in 2003 48,000 49,900
Married by 2003 71.6% 73.4%
Master degree enrollment 32% 30.3%

Is graduate school the new college and can our money keep up with the trend?

  • How much are graduates borrowing? (NM)

    • 2002 average: $31,700 beyond their undergrad borrowing (up 51% from '97)

    • 2002 median: $23,700 beyond their undergrad borrowing (up 72% from '97)

    • Total debt upon finishing:

      • Law and medical school average: $91,700

      • All graduate average: $45,000

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