“Revolutionary” new data show the average debt of recent graduates by grade

The analysis “is really quite revolutionary because up until now, everything had just been institution level,” Andrew Gillen, senior policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, told Yahoo Finance.

Story Highlights:

  • The report — which uses new data released by the Department of Education (ED)’s College Scorecard to examine typical college debt by credential and program — contributes to a burgeoning trend of transparency that’s aimed at scrutinizing the cost of tuition generally.

  • Rather than generalize how much student loan debt one would take out if they go to a college, Gallin noted, students can extrapolate how much their intended major would set them back, which is “helpful.”

Gillen said he hoped that the report will help students and parents make more informed decisions and prompt policymakers to take a closer look at whether these programs provide a good return on students’ investment.

The most and least expensive degrees

Ultimately, he wants there to be more of an understanding in government “about what they’re funding in higher education and why [degree-specific information] would really benefit the higher education landscape.”

Overall, graduates with associate’s degrees borrowed an average of $14,000, as compared to bachelor’s degree grads who borrowed $23,000.

Then there are master’s degrees, of which the costs have been a large focus of the conversation around the price of higher education in recent months. Master’s degree holders borrowed a median of $40,000, according to the data, while professional degree recipients took out a median of $144,000 while doctoral degree graduates borrowed a median of $73,000, according to the data.

“The one pattern that really did jump out at me … is that the student debt for a master’s degree and for professional degrees is just off the charts,” Gillen said. “There’s really, really high debt for graduate programs. That doesn’t always hold for doctoral programs, which I felt was kind of interesting.” Story continues

Professional degrees — which credential medical doctors, veterinarians, and lawyers — are defined by ED as “an award that requires completion of a program that meets the following criteria: (1) completion of the academic requirements to begin practice in the profession; (2) at least 2 years of college work prior to entering the program; and (3) a total of at least 6 academic years of college work to complete the degree program, including prior required college work plus the length of the professional program itself.” The associate’s degree with the lowest level of median debt was in Mechatronics, Robotics, and Automation Engineering at $6,500, followed by Biology Technician/Biotechnology Laboratory Technician at $7,200. (Associates degrees are popular with community colleges.)

An associate’s degree in “Rehabilitation and Therapeutic Professions” would put a student in $19,000 of student loan debt at the median, according to Gillen’s report, while the same discipline at the bachelor’s degree level would set them back by $26,000, by $53,000 at the master’s degree level, and by an eye-popping $108,000 at the professional degree level. Similarly, a degree in “Alternative and Complementary Medicine and Medical Systems” translated into $35,000 of median debt for an associate’s degree and about $38,000 for a bachelor’s degree but $112,000 for a master’s and $230,000 for a professional degree.

Graduate Maddie Park gives a thumbs up to her parents Richard and Stephanie Park as graduating UCLA students walk the stage in Drake Stadium on UCLA on Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images). Median student loan debt

The master’s degrees with the lowest levels of median debt for students were International Agriculture at $15,317; Architectural Engineering at $16,279; and Romance Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics at $19,480. The bachelor’s degree with the lowest level of debt was International and Comparative Education at $10,000, followed by Real Estate Development at $14,000, and Operations Research at $15,971.

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