Data on Student Debt

As the student debt debate continues, here is some data that proves how serious the problem is…

The student debt debate continues, and I thought it would be helpful to present some data to give a sense of how serious the problem is. Of course, when something moves from "OK" to "crisis" varies from observer to observer, and the weight of debt might feel like anything from a gnat to an elephant to individual borrowers.

I'll only mention a few points. Media stories frequently mention total student debt — $1.8 trillion! – but this is insufficient to appreciate the situation. You should at the very least know how many borrowers there are, what they borrowed for, and when they should expect to be paid back.

As seen in the table below, a four-year degree and beyond has a high payoff, with a recent bachelor's grad who borrows likely paying only 6.2 percent of their starting salary toward debt repayment. And 45 percent of undergrads did not borrow. Furthermore, grants now account for a significantly bigger portion of undergraduate financial help than loans.

However, shortly before COVID-19, a huge portion of debt was not in "regular" payments – in school, grace, or repayment – and everyone was put into zero-interest forbearance. This shows that many people were having trouble repaying their debts. Furthermore, African Americans have higher debt loads than other races, with a higher percentage of borrowers having repayment issues, raising worries about racial inequities. Still, there does not appear to be a significant enough student debt crisis to justify wholesale cancellation, especially given that taxpayers will be responsible for any outstanding debt.

All data is from the most recent sources that I am aware of, and spans the years 2016 through 2022.

Total Student Loan Debt: $1.8 trillion

Total Federal Student Loan Debt: $1.6 trillion

Total Federal Borrowers: 43.4 million

Share of Families Holding Student Debt: 21%

Federal Debt per Borrower: $37,004 (Total Federal Debt/​Total Federal Borrowers)

Share of Bachelor’s Students Graduating with Debt: 55%

Average Bachelor’s Student Debt at Graduation, Just Borrowers: $28,400

Average Bachelor’s Student Debt at Graduation, All Grads: $15,600

Federal Loans as Share of All Aid, Undergrads: 26%

Federal Loans as Share of All Aid, Grad Students: 65%

Share of Undergrad Aid, Grants, Loans, Other Aid:

Student Aid Shares by Type

Debt Range:

Student Debt Amount Range

Lifetime Earnings above High‐​School‐​Only:

Some College: $0.3 million

Associate’s Degree: $0.4 million

Bachelor’s Degree: $1.2 million

Master’s Degree: $1.6 million

Doctoral Degree: $2.4 million

Professional Degree: $3.1 million

Average Starting Salary, New Bachelor’s Graduate: $55,260

Average Monthly Payment, Undergrad Who Borrowed, Standard (10‐​Year) Plan, 4% Interest: $287.54

Average Annual Payment As a Share of Salary [($287.54*12)/$55,260] * 100: 6.2%

Share of Undergraduate Enrollment, by Race:

White: 56%

African American: 14%

Hispanic: 19%

Asian: 6%

Other: 5%

Share of Graduate Enrollment, by Race:

White: 62%

African American: 14%

Hispanic: 12%

Asian: 8%

Other: 4%

Average Debt by Race:

White: $40,170

African American: $44,880

Hispanic: $30,890

Other: $40,400

Share of Population with Student Debt, by Race:

White: 20%

African American: 30%

Hispanic: 14%

Other: 24%

Repayment Status as of Q1 2020, Most Recent before COVID-19 Repayment Freeze:

Shares in Repayment Statuses

Debt Paid or Not Behind, by Race:

White: 96%

African American: 80%

Hispanic: 77%


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