The Graduate Student Debt Review: The State of Graduate Student Borrowing

By Betsy Prueter

A recent policy brief from New America reports that the largest overall changes in student borrowing are at the graduate student level, with graduate student debt having increased significantly from 2008 to 2012.

Among the report’s findings:

  • The debt burden for a borrower earning a graduate degree increased (in inflation-adjusted dollars) from $40,209 in 2008 to over $57,000 in 2012.
  • The increase in graduate student debt is seen across a broad range of fields, not just law and medicine, two fields with expected patterns of high borrowing.
  • Roughly 40% of the $1 trillion in outstanding federal student loans financed graduate and professional degrees.

The report cautions against conflating undergraduate and graduate debt in discussions of college costs and student loans. Graduate degrees, the report argues, while providing an increase in earnings for recipients, are not the foundation for American economic opportunity and may not be what taxpayers feel comfortable subsidizing.