Class of 2015 Sees Small Jump in Average Debt Amount for Public Institutions

Quick Takeaways:

  • Sixty-eight percent of 2015 graduates from four-year institutions had student loan debt, and while that is a similar share as in 2014, the amount they owed increased 4 percent, from $28,950 to $30,100.
  • Two-thirds of 2015 graduates with state loan debt—collectively only 11 percent of these students—attended college in Texas, New Jersey, or Minnesota.
  • Nineteen percent of 2015 graduates’ debt is made up by nonfederal education loans.

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff

About seven in 10 college seniors in 2015 had student loan debt, owing an average of about $30,000, according to new data from The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS).

The report, "Student Debt and the Class of 2015", looked at the student debt held by recent graduates of four-year public and private institutions. The report examined data from 1,116 four-year institutions that reported data for the average debt and percent with debt for their Class of 2015, representing 56 percent of four-year institutions in the U.S. For-profit institutions were left out of the report “because virtually no for-profit colleges report what their graduates owe,” according to TICAS.

Sixty-eight percent of 2015 graduates from four-year institutions (public and private combined) had student loan debt, and while that is a similar share as in 2014, the amount they owed increased 4 percent, from $28,950 to $30,100, according to the TICAS report. As a comparison, the Department of Education’s (ED) most recent National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) showed that in 2012, 71 percent of bachelor’s degree graduates from both public and private four-year institutions had student loan debt, with an average debt amount of $29,400.

The data in TICAS’ report is “part of a longer term trend” in which student loans have “become a more and more essential part of how Americans are asked to pay for college,” TICAS President Lauren Asher said.

Asher said that there are two crises surrounding student loan debt. First, the overall amount of outstanding debt in the U.S., which has recently reached over $1 trillion, and second, the average amount students are graduating with. Either way, student loans are “a fact of life” for today’s students and “it’s important to recognize that not only is student debt not the same from school to school ... but how people borrow is not the same,” which “can affect how burdensome your debt will be,” Asher said.

The average debt at the college level ranged from $3,000 to $53,000 and between 7 percent and 100 percent of graduates left school with debt, though TICAS notes that the actual ranges could be larger if all institutions were to report their data. Two hundred colleges reported average debt levels of more than $35,000, and 43 colleges reported that more than 90 percent of their 2015 graduates had debt.

At the state level, the class of 2015 graduated with between $18,850 and $36,100 in debt, with the share of graduates with debt ranging between 41 and 76 percent. The states with the highest average debt levels were largely in the Northeast and Midwest, with New Hampshire topping the list at $36,101. The states with the lowest average debt levels were predominantly Western states, led by Utah at $18,873.

However, the data on the average amount a graduate owes is only one part of a larger picture that include private, nonfederal loans (which includes private or institutional loans) and state loans.

The report produced by TICAS is intended to “fill a gap in federal data,” and for the first time includes data on state and nonfederal loans, according to Asher.

It shows that two-thirds of 2015 graduates with state loan debt—collectively only 11 percent of these students—attended college in Texas, New Jersey, or Minnesota. Nineteen percent of 2015 graduates’ debt is made up by nonfederal education loans. TICAS notes in the report that the terms of state loans “frequently have more in common with other private loans than with federal loans,” and that private loans often lack the consumer protection included in the federal loan program.

TICAS included several policy recommendations to reduce borrowing and student debt at the state and federal levels. At the state level, TICAS recommends:

  • Changing the allocation of state grant aid from merit-based to need-based;
  • Improving transparency around college costs, debt, and aid by requiring colleges to provide better information to students;
  • Notifying students annually about how much they have borrowed;
  • Promoting awareness of income-driven repayment plans; and 
  • Creating exemptions for forgiven amounts of federal student loans from state income tax.

At the federal level, TICAS recommends policymakers:

  • Reduce students’ need to borrow by increasing Pell Grant award amounts and promoting state investment in higher education;
  • Help students keep their student loan payments manageable by simplifying income-driven repayment and making it easier for students stay in such plans, as well as improving student loan servicing so it is more transparent and accountable;
  • Provide better data and consumer information to help students and families make more informed choices, including better utilization of the College Scorecard, net-price calculators, the Shopping Sheet, and loan counseling.; and 
  • Create better protections for private student loan borrowers.

TICAS also said that it supports “more closely tying a college’s eligibility for federal funding to the risk students take by enrolling and the risk taxpayers take by subsidizing it, and rewarding schools that serve students well.” Some of the group’s recommendations on college accountability include creating a graduated reward system for schools that serve low-income students well, enforcing policies that complement risk-sharing, and ending Title IV eligibility for poor-performing schools.

 

Publication Date: 10/18/2016


You must be logged in to comment on this page.

Comments Disclaimer: NASFAA welcomes and encourages readers to comment and engage in respectful conversation about the content posted here. We value thoughtful, polite, and concise comments that reflect a variety of views. Comments are not moderated by NASFAA but are reviewed periodically by staff. Users should not expect real-time responses from NASFAA. To learn more, please view NASFAA’s complete Comments Policy.

Related Content

State Higher Ed Funding Down Billions Since Great Recession

MORE | ADD TO FAVORITES

HBCUs Adding Their Voices to Higher Education Funding Calls

MORE | ADD TO FAVORITES

VIEW ALL
View Desktop Version