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The Rise of Student Debt for Those Who Get Degrees

Jun. 17, 2015 New York Times

My recent article on student debt prompted many questions from readers who were hungry for more detail. I had provided statistics on all undergraduates, but many readers wanted to see debt for those who graduated with a bachelor’s degree.

When you break out the borrowing data by educational attainment, students who get bachelor’s degrees are more likely to borrow than the typical college student. This makes sense: When you stay in school longer, you have more years of tuition to pay and more opportunities to borrow. Fifteen percent of those with a B.A. borrowed more than $30,000, about double the rate of the typical college student. Five percent borrowed more than $50,000, compared with 2 percent of all college students.

These data are from the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study, the most comprehensive survey of student borrowing. It measured Class of 2003 students’ debt six years after entering college.

The longitudinal study is infrequent; we do not have comparable data for a more recent year. But for B.A. recipients there is more up-to-date information from the College Board comparing debt for the graduating classes of 2004, 2008 and 2012. The share of B.A. recipients who borrowed for college rose to 70 percent in 2012 from 65 percent in 2004. Further, the share borrowing relatively large amounts rose sharply. Just 2 percent of the class of 2004 borrowed more than $40,000, but that rose to 8 percent for the class of 2008 and 18 percent for the class of 2012.

The increase is particularly sharp at for-profit colleges. The share of students borrowing over $40,000 rose to 48 percent in 2012 from 4 percent in 2004. Students graduating from public colleges borrow the least, with 12 percent of 2012 graduates borrowing more than $40,000, compared with 20 percent at private, nonprofit colleges.

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