Report: Average Debt Per Borrower Jumps by More Than 40% in Most States

By Allie Arcese, Sr. Director of Strategic Communications & Engagement

By Allie Bidwell, NASFAA Senior Reporter

As lawmakers work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), a central issue has been college affordability, and specifically how to address growing student loan debt. A new report from LendEDU took a different approach to examining debt, looking at how borrowing has changed among different types of colleges, including women’s colleges and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and at the state and institutional level.

The report, published Tuesday, uses data from the annual Peterson’s financial aid survey to examine student debt over 10 years from 2007 to 2017. The report examines the median and average differences in measures like the percent of graduates with debt, the monetary difference in debt per borrower, and the average difference in debt per borrower.

Overall, the average percent of graduates with debt increased by 1.2% between 2007 and 2017. The median percent difference did not change. Among private, public, HBCUs, and women’s colleges, the average percent of graduates with debt decreased by 1%, increased by 4.8%, 11.4% respectively, and decreased by 0.6%. According to Mike Brown, a research analyst at LendEDU and author of the report, the “single biggest takeaway” in the report was seeing “how the student loan debt situation at HBCUs has grown much worse” over the course of 10 years than when compared to overall changes.

The median average debt per borrower at HBCUs has risen by $11,512 over 10 years, he noted, while on an overall level, it has risen by $9,047. The average percent difference in average debt per borrower increased by 58.4% overall, and by 105.3% at HBCUs. It increased by 57.2% at private institutions, by 60.2% at public institutions, and by 59.1% at women’s colleges.

Brown said that “perhaps African-American students have been forced to become more dependent on student loan debt when it comes to funding an education.”

“As the price of a bachelor's degree continues to skyrocket, taking on more student loan debt has become almost necessary for most young Americans if they wish to attend a higher education institution and stay competitive in the job market after graduating,” he said.

The data LendEDU collected could be useful in the HEA reauthorization process, Brown said, particularly as lawmakers zero in on college accountability. Looking at student loan data from the national, institutional, and state levels, in addition to looking at borrower demographics can be advantageous, he said.

The LendEDU report, for example, showed that the University of the Incarnate Word, a private institution, managed to decrease the average debt per borrower by nearly 80% between 2007 and 2017, from $30,613 to $6,271. The Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, a public HBCU institution, lowered the average debt per borrower by about 75%, from $29,742 to $7,454.

Likewise, the report found that the average debt per borrower had increased by more than 40% in more than half of all states, jumping by more than 100% in New Mexico. The monetary difference in average debt per borrower increased by more than $8,000 in half of all states, climbing by nearly $17,000 in Delaware over the course of 10 years.

“Going back to the reworking of HEA, we can really see how individual institutions are performing when it comes to managing student loan debt on their campuses, as opposed to looking at a nationwide sample across all colleges and universities,” Brown said. “In that sense, the data in the way we presented it really allows for a researcher to breakdown student loan debt at an extremely micro-level (school-by-school), rather than just looking at overall statistics, that may disproportionately favor one thing over another for whatever reason.”


Publication Date: 5/1/2019

Mark B | 5/1/2019 4:42:45 PM

This excerpt from the article seems contradictory and/or misleading based on what I found when I did research on the web:

Anyone that wants to chime in on this and straighten out what I'm seeing as incorrect, please do so.

Peter G | 5/1/2019 12:39:23 PM

I'm not familiar with the Peterson's data set, but there seems to be a lack of clarity here on whether these are all student loans (federal/private/institutional) or just federal, or if that reporting varied by institution. The number of caveats in the "methodology" section of the report also do not seem to be reflected in the comments above (e.g. the statement that "the data is likely to be inaccurate on the state-level" in the report vs. Brown's claim that "looking at student loan data from the national, institutional, and state levels, in addition to looking at borrower demographics can be advantageous, he said.").

All other theories aside, the reality is that if you're comparing the class who graduated in 2017 from the class who graduated in may/june 2007, the available amount of loans were quite different.

Even assuming a "stereotypical" dependent 4 year student progressing to degree, someone graduating in 2007 could have only borrowed $17,125 in DL vs. 27,000 for the 2017 graduate, so to some extent they may not be measuring anything other than raw change in federal policy.

Likewise the report doesn't seem to have investigated if there was a shift in length of time to graduating, or a shift from dependent to independent students, etc.

I'm sorry, but this just seems like a glorified advertisement more than a valid research or policy "report."

Tracy H | 5/1/2019 12:21:32 PM

It seems to me that whenever student loan debt rises, some jump to the conclusion that it's only directly related to tuition. Has anyone ever considered the cost of housing and food? Our local rents have sky-rocketed, as have our home prices, and we have to provide student's a reasonable housing allowance in their cost of attendance, so that lends to an increase in debt to cover living beyond tuition and fees. We can lower tuition, but we can't really control the cost of living for students living off campus. Seems like there's a bigger economic and societal picture that needs to be considered when looking at students' need to borrow to attend school.

James P | 5/1/2019 8:37:56 AM

Costs have increased while state support has decreased. How is a student, especially one from a family with only modest means, supposed to pay the higher education bill? That said, colleges need to be given broad authority to limit borrowing. Approved loan amounts need to be based a reasoned analysis of a student's particular need and not on an arbitrary formula decreed by Washington.

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