Grad School Student Debt Spikes: New America Foundation Student Loan Study
NEW YORK (MainStreet) The debt incurred by students at for-profit colleges and trade schools has become one of the more sensational aspects of the student loans crisis, if only because so many people who attend these schools often can't find jobs in their field of study and leave with so much debt. But lurking beyond the trade school space is a similar problem: the debt racked up by students in graduate school.
While questions about trade school student loans have dogged the industry, the amount of debt that graduate and professional students are accumulating to pay for their education has surged in recent years, according to a March 25 report by the New American Foundation.
Analyzing federal data, the Washington, D.C.-based think tank found that the median overall indebtedness for a borrower who earned a graduate degree increased -- in inflation-adjusted dollars -- from $40,209 in 2004 to $57,600 in 2012.
The figure includes loans from both undergraduate programs and graduate and professional degrees.
According to the report by Jason Delisle, director of the New American Foundation's Federal Budget Project, mega grad school debt extends to almost all disciplines, not just prospective doctors and lawyers.
"The largest changes in student borrowing are taking place in graduate education," the report stated, noting that "this trend is not limited to what many already know are high-cost credentials like those in medicine and law."
The report found, for example, that in 2004, a typical borrower who got a Master of Arts degree owed $37,965. By 2012, that number went to $58,539, adjusted for inflation. People getting an MA in education, now a nearly universal requirement to teach at the K through 12 grade levels, owed $50,879 in 2012, an increase of $30,726 over 2004.
The study found that of the degrees it analyzed, MBAs were the only type that did not see a significant increase in the median debt load. The typical borrower of loans to pay for an MBA, adjusted for inflation, owed roughly the same in 2004 as in 2012.
A few of these clouds have silver linings. The New America report said that the student loan debt may not continue to rise at the rate of the last decade. New debt relief programs such as income-based repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs will help, although tax payers foot the bill for later.
Still, graduate and professional degrees are where some of the most dramatic cost increases are found, and the report suggests that there are serious problems with how the federal government structures its aid programs for graduate students, a topic Delisle says the New America will consider for future research.
--Written by John Sandman for MainStreet