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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 

New Data from the 2015–16 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study

Seventy-two percent of all undergraduate students received some type of financial aid, including loans, in the 2015–16 academic year. For those who received aid, the average was about $12,300 per student. If you want to explore more statistics on student financial aid, you can! NCES has released new data from the 2015–16 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:16). Data users have the ability to generate estimates and perform their own analyses using our online data analysis tools available in DataLab. Users can select the tool that best meets their needs, including PowerStats, QuickStats, and TrendStats.

NPSAS is the most comprehensive nationally representative study of how students and their families finance postsecondary education in the United States. The NPSAS:16 sample consisted of approximately 113,000 undergraduate and graduate students attending 1,800 postsecondary institutions in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

In addition to information on financial aid, the study collects data on many other topics, such as student demographics, total and net prices of attendance, education-related debt, major field of study, employment while enrolled, and participation in remedial education.

To enhance the data and address emerging policy issues, NCES has also included new and expanded items on these topics in NPSAS:16:

  • Financial literacy, including questions to measure understanding of key financial concepts such as inflation, interest rates, and investment, plus questions on the possible consequences for failing to repay federal student loans;
  • Alternative repayment options for federal loans, including awareness of and plans to use income-driven repayment and public service loan forgiveness;
  • Student veterans and military students, including an oversample of student veterans, measures of federal veterans’ education benefits derived from administrative sources, indicators of whether institutions offer programs targeted to veterans and military students, and new measures of state and institution aid specifically for student veterans; and
  • Study abroad, including the location and duration of time spent abroad.

A First Look report, which was released in January, highlighted key findings from the study. For more information on how the study was planned and conducted, including extensive details on sampling, data collection, response rates, weighting, and other topics, we encourage you to see the 2015–16 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:16) Data File Documentation report.

By Tracy Hunt-White

NCES Fast Facts Deliver Data to Your Door

By Molly Fenster, American Institutes for Research

Have you ever wondered how many public high school students graduate on time? Or wanted to know the types of safety and security measures schools use, or the latest trends in the cost of a college education? If so, the NCES Fast Facts website has the answers for you!

Launched on March 1, 1999, the Fast Facts site originally included 45 responses to the questions most frequently asked by callers to the NCES Help Line. Today, the more than 70 Fast Facts answer questions of interest to education stakeholders–such as a teacher, school administrator, or researcher–as well as college students, parents, and community members with a specific interest or data need. The facts feature text, tables, figures, and links from various published sources, primarily the Digest of Education Statistics and The Condition of Education, and they are updated periodically with new data from recently released publications and products. 

For example, the screenshot below shows one of the most accessed Fast Facts on high school dropout rates:

Access the site for the full Fast Fact, as well as links to “Related Tables and Figures” and “Other Resources” on high school dropout rates.

The other facts on the site feature a diverse range of topics from child care, homeschooling, students with disabilities, teachers, and enrollment, to graduation rates, educational attainment, international education, finances, and more. The site is organized to provide concise, current information in the following areas:

  • Assessments;
  • Early Childhood;
  • Elementary and Secondary;
  • Library;
  • Postsecondary and Beyond; and
  • Resources.

Five recently released Fast Facts on ACT scores; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education; public school students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch; postsecondary student debt; and Historically Black Colleges and Universities offer the latest data on these policy-relevant and interesting education topics.

Join our growing base of users and visit the Fast Facts site today!

Teaching 21st Century Skills to Community College Students: An Innovative Approach Under Development in California

As part of our series recognizing Career and Technical Education (CTE) month, we interviewed Mary Visher, Senior Associate at MDRC, about her recently funded study, Teaching and Learning 21st Century Skills in Community Colleges: A Study of the New World of Work Program (NWoW). This project is developing and testing an innovative program aimed at teaching 21st century skills to community college students in CTE courses. Researchers, policymakers, and practitioners are working closely together to improve upon NWoW, which is already in use in several community colleges in California.

What are 21st century skills, and why are they important?

There is growing consensus among researchers, practitioners, and employers that 21st century skills–e.g., adaptability, analytic mindset, collaboration, and communication–are essential for success in both school and in the modern workplace. We believe that postsecondary programs need to incorporate strategies to ensure that students graduate with these skills.

Why are you (personally) excited about this work?

About two years ago, I was interviewing community college students in California about their experiences when a young man walked into the room. The first thing I noticed were his tattoos, which covered every inch of his exposed skin. The next thing I noticed was how he strode over to me, stretched out his hand to shake mine with a firm grip, looked me in the eye, smiled warmly and introduced himself. Having interviewed hundreds of community college students for other research projects, I had rarely – if ever – encountered this level of self-assurance, respectful courtesy, and ability to immediately adapt and respond to an unfamiliar person with an unfamiliar purpose.

The young man told me that he had been incarcerated as a teen for gang involvement, and, after being discharged from prison, he couldn’t find work. With few other options, he enrolled in the diesel technology program at his local community college, but this was not an ordinary CTE program. It included NWoW.

Through NWoW, he learned 21st century skills in the context of learning diesel technology skills and had worksite experiences to practice both. He told me that this part of his education “changed his life.” He did so well in a job interview at a food processing equipment manufacturer that he was not only hired, but quickly promoted to a management position. At the time we met, he was to receive company training and another promotion, but he still planned on earning his certificate. After that, he planned on applying to a state university to pursue a BA or a master’s degree.

The young man credited his professional success to NWoW, where he learned behaviors and skills no one else had taught him. It is exciting to be a part of developing and testing a program that may affect the lives of adult students in such ways.

How did NWoW come into being?

In 2015, faculty at a community college in California noticed the deficiencies in students’ soft skills and developed a 21st century skills curriculum to use in their classes. They added a work-based learning and an assessment component a short time later. Soon thereafter, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office noticed their work and gave them support to further develop the program and take it to more colleges. 

What are the core components of the NWoW program?

NWoW is designed to promote growth in 10 skills and has 3 core components, all 3 of which will undergo an iterative development process in the next 2 years:

  1. A curriculum designed to be embedded in CTE community college courses;
  2. A work-based learning component to allow students practice the skills in an authentic work setting; and
  3. An assessment/credentialing component allowing students to earn a “digital badge” in each of the 10 skills.

What is your research goal?

Our goal is to work with instructors (including the original program designers), employers, and other partners to further refine and enhance this program. Moreover, we hope to address important questions in the field about whether or how such skills can be taught and learned in the classroom, how to measure them, and how to signal competency to employers and others. 

Who else is involved?

MDRC is working with the NWoW team and its partners, including the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, the Foundation for California Community Colleges, LinkedIn, and badgr. The development work is ongoing with three community colleges, and we will then test the improved version in a new set of colleges.

By Mary Visher, Senior Associate at MDR​C, interviewed by Meredith Larson, NCER