Graduate and Professional School Debt: How Much Students Borrow

Research and Data

How Much Students Borrow

The fourth in a series of research briefs on key topics related to graduate and professional education, this brief reviews borrowing patterns and trends among advanced degree students, disaggregating by demographic characteristics as well as type of program and institutional sector.

By Sandy Baum, Ph.D., and Patricia Steele, Ph.D.

 


Introduction

Although concerns about student debt most often focus on undergraduate students, borrowing rates and average debt are higher among graduate and professional degree students1 than undergraduates. Their high levels of debt contribute significantly to aggregate student debt. Policy solutions focusing only on undergraduates cannot appropriately address the issues of student debt in the United States. Moreover, examination of borrowing patterns among students pursuing advanced degrees can help identify barriers to enrollment in these programs as well as potential repayment problems.

There is wide variation in how students cover tuition and living expenses while they pursue graduate and professional degrees. As reported in the third brief in this series, The Price of Graduate and Professional School: How Much Students Pay, most research doctoral degree students attending public and private nonprofit schools benefit from generous institutional fellowships and assistantships that cover a significant portion of their expenses. But master’s degree students in all sectors cover most of their expenses with earnings from employment and federal student loans. Borrowing is particularly important for professional degree students, most of whom have neither earnings from employment during the academic year nor grants and fellowships to cover tuition and living expenses while they are enrolled.

This brief reviews borrowing patterns and trends among advanced degree students, disaggregating by demographic characteristics as well as type of program and institutional sector.

 

1This brief uses the terms “graduate and professional students” and “advanced degree students” interchangeably