The State of Student Debt

A college education can seem essential to live a life most people would like to live. Students dream to be successful or to get a job that requires a college education yet most must face a fear they saw coming: student debt. With more students attending college as time passes, there are also higher costs of education and higher levels of student debt.  Currently, there is an extraordinary total of 1.3 trillion U.S dollars student debt owed which is spread among a population of 44 million borrowers (Student Loan Hero).

Among students taking on debt, the average st udent debt for students that spent four years at a public college comes to $22,550. The average student debt for students that spent four years at a private university comes to $39,950 ( The Institute for College Access & Success).  With these sorts of high debt loads, it’s no surprise that students are worried about their financial futures.  When we asked a sample of American college students if they worry about their financial futures, 88% of them expressed at least some worry, and 71% of respondents were specifically worried about student debts. A whopping 96% of respondents said that college was too high.  Following national trends, the majority of our sample reported expected student debts upon graduation of between $0 and $50,000.  However, it is also important to point out that student indebtedness is skewed right with a long upper tail, meaning that 16 percent of our sample expected to have a debt of more than $90,000 after completing their education.  While it is important to note that we asked students to consider possible graduate school debt when answering the survey, the fact that a significant fractionof students are contemplating debt loads of nearly six figures or more showcases the stress many students face when making choices about their educational future. The decision to continue education after a bachelor’s degree normally increases one’s student debt. If a student only plans to get their MBA, the average student debt tends to be $42,000. Master of education, master of science, or master of arts range from a national average of $50,000-$60,000. If students plan on going into law or medicine their debt majorly increases to $140,000 to $160,000 (New American Education Policy Program). The percentages of students that go into these fields decrease as debt goes up. Thus, medicine and law have the fewest number of students. Clearly, student debt places a large toll on these students, and is also likely to act as a barrier dissuading many poorer students from entering these fields.

While the average student debt nationally is around $30,000, 65% of our respondents answered with a value of more than $30,000 when asked what they thought the average level of student debt would be.  This discrepancy highlights the fact that many students are relatively uneducated about student debt even as they find themselves taking on loans.  Our data suggests that more can be done to educate students about both the statistics and the risks of student debt.

Perhaps the scariest statistic is that 75% of the respondents to our poll agreed with that statement that if college costs continue to rise, at some point college will not be a good investment.  The current system of higher education can not afford to alienate students and threaten their financial futures indefinitely.  We hope that our data shows that college costs must be lowered, and that university students need more readily available channels to understand the current situation of student debt.  Students in our survey commonly mentioned increased government funding of higher education as well as decreased university amenities as ways to lower the cost of college and reduce student debt.  We support these ideas, and urge people to contact higher education officials, state and congressional representatives, as well as other lawmakers, to express their support for these changes as well.

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CITATIONS:

  1. “U.S. Student Loan Debt Statistics for 2017.” Student Loan Hero. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.
  2. The Institute for College Access & Success, and Loan. DEBT (n.d.): n. pag. Quick Facts About Student Debt. The Institute for College Access & Success, Mar. 14. Web.
  3. New American Education Policy Program. (n.d.): n. pag. The Graduate Student Debt Review. New American Education Policy Program, Mar. 14. Web.