Report Details Heavy Debt Loads for College Graduates


Students who pursued bachelor’s degrees from for-profit colleges have the highest student loan debt, according to a new research brief from the College Board that warns of looming financial trouble for this particular group of students.

“Our examination of the characteristics of the undergraduate students whose debt levels are largest highlights one category of borrowers who may be at risk,” says the brief, titled Who Borrows Most?: Bachelor’s Degree Recipients with High Levels of Student Debt.

Fifty-three percent of four-year degree recipients from for-profit college are graduating with debts of $30,500 or more, compared to 24 percent of graduates from private not-for-profit four year schools and only 12 percent who graduate with four-year degrees from public four-year institutions.

The brief also examines debt loads of borrowers by their ethnicity, income level and other factors. Among other things, the research brief found that:

  • Independent students – that is those who were supporting themselves – were twice as likely to leave school with at least $30,500 in debt as dependent students (who depended on some help from their families), 24 percent versus 12 percent.
  • Among dependent students, students from middle-income families ($30,000 to $59,999) were slightly more likely than students from low-income families (under $30,000) or higher income families ($60,000 to $99,999) to leave school with at least $30,500 in debt, 14 percent versus 13 percent and 12 percent, respectively. Only 9 percent of students from families who earned $100,000 or more were likely to graduate with $30,500 or more in debt.
  • Black Bachelor’s degree recipients were more likely to graduate with $30,500 in debt than white, Hispanic/Latino or Asian students. The percentage of black students with that level of debt as 27 percent; it was 16 percent of white students, 14 percent of Hispanic/Latino students, and 9 percent for Asian students.

The brief says while relatively low percentages of students are graduating with high debt loads, those who do would benefit from front-end counseling because their earnings may not enable them to avoid default.

“While it is encouraging that it is not students from the lowest-income families who are borrowing most, the data reported here make it clear that students need better information about the postsecondary choices available to them and about responsible borrowing,” the brief states. “They need this information before they incur amounts of debt that put them at great risk of future financial insecurity.”