A New Look at the Debt Crisis

Loans incurred by students getting master’s and professional degrees may be even more burdensome than loans taken out by undergraduates, says the New America Foundation.

Using Department of Education data, the authors of “The Graduate Student Debt Review” show how large those debts are. The total debt (graduate and undergraduate) for the median graduate of a master’s of education program is $50,879; for master’s of arts degrees, it is $58,539. Needless to say, law school debt is higher—$140,616, which makes the borrowing for an MBA look good, a mere  $42,000.

“[D]ebt for students who earned a range of master’s and professional degrees has surged in recent years and the trend gained significant momentum  in the years between 2008 and 2012.,” write Jason Delisle and two coauthors. They estimate that 40 percent of the $1 trillion in outstanding student debt comes from borrowing for graduate degrees (that figure includes Ph.D.s).

This is worth pondering. Undergraduate loans are troubling enough—the average debt for college graduates was $29,384 in 2012. But when you add graduate debt, especially as young people go back for another degree hoping to enhance their job prospects, it is scary.

Jane S. Shaw — Jane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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