For quite awhile now, I have been complaining that many of the research studies and media reports examining the exploding levels of student loan debt have focused disproportionately on undergraduate debt. There is no doubt in my mind that undergraduate debt has been increasing at an enormous rate, and it is putting a huge burden on young people who are just trying to get the education they need to enter the workforce and earn middle class incomes (which typically requires at least an undergraduate degree).
But based on what I’ve seen during the past several years of assisting student loan borrowers, I can say with a great deal of confidence that graduate debt levels are even worse, and there is a real and growing crisis regarding graduate school debt. It’s not surprising, since in many fields an undergraduate degree is no longer sufficient to move up the career ladder. Employers in many professions require, or at least strongly prefer, a Master’s degree or higher. Furthermore, in an era when undergraduate degrees alone are often not sufficient to even enter middle class salary ranges, many people feel pressure to go back to school to burnish their credentials and become more competitive in an already-competitive job market.
Finally, there are numbers to back up my concerns. The New America Foundation has released a new report detailing the growing graduate student loan crisis:
- Average graduate student loan debt increased 43% from 2004 to 2012.
- A graduate student in 2004 borrowed an average of $40,209 to finance their graduate degree (this is on top of undergraduate debt). A graduate student in 2012 borrowed an average of $57,600.
- At least 41% of student loans issued in the fall of 2012 went to graduate students.
- In 2004, a Master’s of Arts degree resulted in a median debt level of $38,000. In 2012, the median debt level for the same degree jumped to $59,000.
The New America Foundation recommended that policy makers and the media refocus their understanding of student debt: this is not just an undergraduate problem. I could not agree more.
I don’t necessarily agree with the entire analysis in the New America Foundation’s report on graduate debt (and in fact I’ve disagreed with several of the organization’s past assessments and recommendations for student loan reform), but I do applaud them for taking a hard look at this issue. From any angle, we can all agree that graduate student loan debt is a serious and deepening problem.
To read the report, click here.