Independence from Debt? Facts About American Student Debt


In recognition of independence day, we decided to look at the history of student debt in our country. What we found was startling.

Fact #1: Class of 2015 Most Burdened

The Class of 2015 has the most student debt in U.S. history, graduating with an average of $35,051 in debt according to an analysis from the great Mark Kantrowitz.

That’s $2,000 more than their peers who graduated only one year earlier. If debt continued to grow at the same rate, by 2023, students will graduate with well over $50,000 in student debt.

Fact #2: Graduates and Gender

In 1940, 186,500 Americans graduated college (58.7% were male).

In 1950, 432,058 Americans graduated college (76% were male).

In 2014-15, an estimated 1.8 million people will receive bachelor’s degrees and females are expected to account for the majority.

Fact #3: That Lucky One

In 2012, nearly 3 out of 4 students (71%) graduating from four-year colleges had student loan debt. That means 1.3 million students graduated that year with debt.

In 1993, less than half of students graduated with college loan debt.

Fact #4: Cost Then vs. Now

Average cost of tuition, fees, room and board for higher ed schools in 2012-13 was:

$15,022 at public institutions

$22,158 at private for-profit institutions

$39,173 at private nonprofit institutions

Comparing one university (University of Pennsylvania) over time:

1950 Cost of Tuition, fees, room and board: $1,315

1959 Cost of Tuition, fees, room and board: $2,350

2013-14 Cost of Tuition, fees, room and board: $45,406

Fact #5: State of Your Choice

Only one state in the country is graduating students with an average debtload of under $20,000. Check out this infographic to see which state it is, as well as compare student debt across all states.

Fact #6: Head of the Class

Class of 2015 graduates owe twice as much in student loans as graduates 2 decades earlier (adjusted for inflation).

Fact #7: Total Debt

Here’s one that will pop your top…total education-related debt for students (and their parents) was under $10 billion in 1993 and is nearly $70 billion in 2015. That’s billion with a “B.”

Fact #8: A History of Debt

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) was founded in 1867, but it did not administer federal student loans until the passage of Title IV of the Higher Education Act in 1965.

Fact #9: Oh the 80s

In 1986, parent and student borrowers had incurred nearly $10 billion in federal student loans. Now this pales in comparison to the $1.2 trillion of federal student loan debt our nation faces.

Fact #10: Voted Most Likely

More than 1 in 10 students who entered loan repayment in 2011 have defaulted on their loans. A borrower in “default” is defined as a person who has failed to make loan payments for 270 days. 13.7 percent of those borrowers defaulted within the first 3 years of their repayment schedule. When a student defaults, taxpayers make up the difference for that unpaid loan.

Best Intentions & What to Do

The best intentions of the federal government to give more students access to college via federal loans were admirable. But admirable doesn’t pay the bills, and more students are swimming in debt and drowning in loan default.

Many solutions have been tossed around – Students should borrow less. Schools should reduce costs. States should increase funding.

The fact is there isn’t one band-aid for student loan debt issue. However, small differences can be made every day by invested students, parents, financial aid professionals, institutions and private companies.

CampusLogic believes that financial education is the key to reducing student borrowing. Informed students who understand the true cost of school and the repercussion of over-borrowing are able to make more responsible borrowing decisions.

AwardLetter is a digital award letter that schools can infuse with interactive resources, explanatory videos and resourceful links to help students understand the loan jargon, process and repayment responsibilities.

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