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Institute of Education Sciences

Trends in Graduate Student Loan Debt

Sixty percent of students who completed a master’s degree in 2015–16 had student loan debt, either from undergraduate or graduate school. Among those with student loan debt, the average balance was $66,000.[i] But there are many types of master’s degrees. How did debt levels vary among specific degree programs? And how have debt levels changed over time? You can find the answers, for both master’s and doctorate degree programs, in the Condition of Education 2018.

Between 1999–2000 and 2015–16, average student loan debt for master’s degree completers increased by:

  • 71 percent for master of education degrees (from $32,200 to $55,200),
  • 65 percent for master of arts degrees (from $44,000 to $72,800),
  • 39 percent for master of science degrees (from $44,900 to $62,300), and
  • 59 percent for “other” master’s degrees[ii] (from $47,200 to $75,100).

Average loan balances for those who completed master of business education degrees were higher in 2015–16 than in 1999–2000 ($66,300 vs. $47,400), but did not show a clear trend during this period.

Between 1999–2000 and 2015–16, average student loan debt for doctorate degree completers increased by:

  • 97 percent for medical doctorates (from $124,700 to $246,000),
  • 75 percent for other health science doctorates[iii] (from $115,500 to $202,400),
  • 77 percent for law degrees (from $82,400 to $145,500),
  • 104 percent for Ph.D.’s outside the field of education (from $48,400 to $98,800), and
  • 105 percent for “other (non-Ph.D.) doctorates[iv] (from $64,500 to $132,200).

While 1999–2000 data were unavailable for education doctorate completers, the average balance in 2015–16 ($111,900) was 66 percent higher than the average loan balance for education doctorate completers in 2003–04 ($67,300).

For more information, check out the full analysis in the Condition of Education 2018.

 

By Joel McFarland

 

[i] The average balances in this analysis exclude students with no student loans.

[ii] Includes public administration or policy, social work, fine arts, public health, and other.

[iii] Includes chiropractic, dentistry, optometry, pharmacy, podiatry, and veterinary medicine.

[iv] Includes science or engineering, psychology, business or public administration, fine arts, theology, and other.

Announcing the Condition of Education 2018 Release

We are pleased to present The Condition of Education 2018, a congressionally mandated annual report summarizing the latest data on education in the United States. This report is designed to help policymakers and the public monitor educational progress. This year’s report includes 47 indicators on topics ranging from prekindergarten through postsecondary education, as well as labor force outcomes and international comparisons. 

In addition to the regularly updated annual indicators, this year’s spotlight indicators highlight new findings from recent NCES surveys. The first spotlight indicator examines the choices and costs that families face as they select early childhood care arrangements. Drawing on data from the NCES National Household Education Survey, the indicator finds that early childhood care expenses were higher in 2016 than in 2001. For example, families’ average hourly out-of-pocket expenses for center-based care were 72 percent higher in 2016 ($7.60) than in 2001 ($4.42), in constant 2016–17 dollars. The indicator also finds that in 2016, some 57 percent of children under the age of 6 had parents who reported there were good choices for child care where they lived. Among children whose parents reported difficulty finding child care in 2016, some 32 percent cited cost as the primary reason. The complete indicator, Early Childhood Care Arrangements: Choices and Costs, contains more information about how these findings varied by family income, race/ethnicity, locale (urban, suburban, town, or rural), and children’s age.


Average hourly out-of-pocket child care expense for children under 6 years old and not yet in kindergarten whose families paid for child care, by primary type of child care arrangement: 2001 and 2016

1 Center-based arrangements include day care centers, Head Start programs, preschools, prekindergartens, and childhood programs.
NOTE: Estimates include only those children whose families paid at least part of the cost out of pocket for their child to receive nonparental care at least weekly.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Program Participation Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (ECPP-NHES: 2001 and 2016). See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 202.30c.


The second spotlight describes the characteristics of teachers who entered the teaching profession through an alternative route to certification program. Compared to those who entered through a traditional route, higher percentages of alternative route teachers in 2015–16 were Black (13 vs. 5 percent), Hispanic (15 vs. 8 percent), of Two or more races (2 vs. 1 percent), and male (32 vs. 22 percent), and lower percentages were White (66 vs. 83 percent). Overall, 18 percent of public school teachers in 2015–16 had entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program. The percentages were higher among those who taught career or technical education (37 percent), natural sciences (28 percent), foreign languages (26 percent), English as a second language (24 percent), math and computer science (22 percent), and special education (20 percent). The analysis also examines how the prevalence of alternative route teachers varies between charter schools and traditional public schools, between high and low poverty schools, and between schools that enroll high or low percentages of racial/ethnic minority students. For more findings from this analysis of data from the National Teacher and Principal Survey, see the complete indicator, Characteristics of Public School Teachers Who Completed Alternative Route to Certification Programs.


Percentage distribution of public elementary and secondary school teachers, by route to certification and race/ethnicity: 2015–16

NOTE: Teachers were asked whether they entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program, which is a program that was designed to expedite the transition of nonteachers to a teaching career (for example, a state, district, or university alternative route to certification program). Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. Data for American Indian/Alaska Native teachers who entered teaching through a traditional route and Pacific Islander teachers who entered teaching through traditional and alternative routes round to zero and are not displayed.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), “Public School Teacher Data File,” 2015–16. See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 209.24.


The third spotlight presents data on average student loan balances for students completing graduate degrees. Using data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, this indicator examines how average student loan balances changed between 1999–2000 and 2015–16, and how those trends varied by degree type. Among graduate school completers who had student loans for undergraduate or graduate studies, average student loan balances increased for all degree types (in constant 2016–17 dollars). For example, average student loan balances for students who completed research doctorate degrees, such as a Ph.D., doubled during this time period, from $53,500 to $108,400 (an increase of 103 percent). Average student loan balances increased by 90 percent for those who completed professional doctorate degrees, such as medical doctorates and law degrees (from $98,200 to $186,600). The complete indicator, Trends in Student Loan Debt for Graduate School Completers, also describes how average student loan balances varied among specific degree programs, such as medical doctorates, law degrees, and master’s degrees in business administration.


Average cumulative student loan balance for graduate school completers, by degree type: Selected years, 1999–2000 through 2015–16

1 Includes chiropractic, dentistry, law, medicine, optometry, pharmacy, podiatry, and veterinary medicine. 
NOTE: Data refer to students who completed graduate degrees in the academic years indicated. Includes student loans for undergraduate and graduate studies. Average excludes students with no student loans.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1999–2000, 2003–04, 2007–08, 2011–12, and 2015–16 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:2000, NPSAS:04, NPSAS:08, NPSAS:12, and NPSAS:16). See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 332.45.


The Condition includes an At a Glance section, which allows readers to quickly make comparisons within and across indicators, and a Highlights section, which captures key findings from each indicator. The report contains a Reader’s Guide, a Glossary, and a Guide to Sources that provide additional background information. Each indicator provides links to the source data tables used to produce the analyses.

As new data are released throughout the year, indicators will be updated and made available on The Condition of Education website. In addition, NCES produces a wide range of reports and datasets designed to help inform policymakers and the public. For more information on our latest activities and releases, please visit our website or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

By James L. Woodworth, NCES Commissioner 

What is the Price of College?

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

For many students and their families, a college education is seen as an investment in the future. But like all investments, the initial sacrifices can seem burdensome and the future is uncertain. NCES seeks to help students and their families make good decisions by providing access to timely information about the price of college and the availability of financial aid. The NCES College Navigator web site provides an array of search tools to help students locate institutions that meet their financial needs and academic interests. Additionally, the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 requires the U.S. Department of Education to report  current information and recent changes in net prices for college attendance, and tuition and fees charges at different types of institutions. Data on high and low cost institutions are published on the College Affordability and Transparency Center website. These sites can help students and their families make informed decisions about their most affordable options.

NCES recently released a report that examines the total, net, and out-of-pocket prices by type of institution in 2011-12. Although it is presented for institutions at an aggregate level, rather than for individual institutions, this report provides valuable information on the average prices for different types of degree-granting colleges, including breakdowns for students from families with different income levels. Overall, students at public 2-year colleges had the lowest average total price of attendance in 2011-12 at $15,000. Public 4-year institutions had the lowest average total price ($23,200) among 4-year colleges, and the average price of attendance at 4-year for-profit institutions was $29,300.  The average total price was highest at private non-profit 4-year institutions ($43,500); however, 4-year private nonprofit schools also awarded the most grant money and had the greatest percentage of students who received grants.

Factoring in financial aid, such as grants, loans, and work study, reduces the out-of-pocket costs that students and their families pay at various institutions. As a result, many full-time students pay less than the advertised total price of attendance. The out-of-pocket net price of attendance is based on the total price of attendance, but also accounts for the amount of grant and loan aid that students typically receive. Additionally, because many sources of aid are based on students’ financial need, there are differences in the out-of-pocket net price of attendance for dependent students from lower and higher income families. 

Overall, students at public 2-year colleges had the lowest out-of-pocket net price (after grants and loans) at $9,900 in 2011-12. The average out-of-pocket net price was $11,800 at public 4-year institutions and $15,000 at for-profit institutions. The largest difference between total price of attendance and out-of-pocket net price was at private nonprofit 4-year institutions, with the out-of-pocket net price ($18,100) being about $25,400 less than the average total price.  

Across all types of institutions, dependent students from lower income families (the lowest quarter of family incomes) had the lowest out-of-pocket net price. The average out-of-pocket net price for students from lower income families was $7,500 at public 2-year institutions, $7,100 at public 4-year institutions, $11,000 at private nonprofit institutions, and $15,000 at private for-profit institutions. In contrast, students from families in the top quarter of incomes had average out-of-pocket costs of $13,100 at public 2-year institutions, $16,800 at public 4-year institutions, $26,600 at private nonprofit institutions, and $22,300 at private for-profit institutions.

For more information on the total, net, and out-of-pocket prices by type of institution, please download the entire report: What is the Price of College: Total, Net, and Out-of-Pocket Prices by Type of Institution in 2011-12, or watch the video below.