October 7, 2014

The Changing Profile of Student Borrowers

Cumulative Student Debt Among Recent College Graduates

The Share of College Graduates Borrowing Has Sharply IncreasedThis analysis focuses on three classes of newly minted college graduates, that is, undergraduates who had recently completed a bachelor’s degree: the class of 1992-93, 1999-00, and 2011-12. The analysis is restricted to those receiving bachelor’s degrees in order to concentrate on the group of undergraduates that public discussions typically emphasize.4

Among college students who graduated in 2011-12, fully seven-in-ten (69%) borrowed money to finance their education. This represents a sharp increase from 20 years earlier when roughly half (49%) of graduates left school with some student debt.

Not only are more students borrowing these days, but those who do take out loans are graduating with a much larger debt. Among 2011-12 graduates who took out student loans, the typical amount borrowed was $26,885. This is the median, meaning that half the borrowers had accumulated less than $26,885 in education debt and half had accumulated at least $26,885. The typical amount of student debt incurred by borrowers in the class of 1992-93 was $12,434, or less than half of the most recent level.5

  1. Izzo (2014) is representative of press coverage focusing on baccalaureates.
  2. Both the incidence and average amounts of student debt vary by whether the graduate’s college is public, private non-profit or private for-profit (Miller, 2014).