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Student Debt Graduates of 2015-16: A First Look

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Who Borrows and How Much do They Borrow?

The Reports on Graduate Debt are a companion piece to the Guide to the Post-Completion Wages of Graduates released in 2012. In the debt reports, SCHEV provides a comprehensive look at the trends in student borrowing in the Commonwealth. These reports provide data at the state-level for a given level of degree all the way down to specific programs at each public and private, nonprofit institution in Virginia. SCHEV's reports also allow the user to delve into differences based on domicile, gender, and race/ethnicity. Virginia is one of only a handful of states that has made a serious effort to make these data available in a manner that goes beyond the very basic reporting to the National Center for Education Statistics and the various college ranking surveys and make these data available to the public. Students, parents, college officials, and policy-makers no longer need depend on a single general statistic or anecdotal information when making decisions. They now have access to actual Virginia-specific data.

We begin by looking at the universe of degree completers. In academic year 2015-16, Virginia's public and private, nonprofit institutions awarded 102,188 degrees. This excludes 16,368 certificates of varying levels. Of the degree completers, 20% completed the associate degree, 53% completed the bachelor's degree, 24% completed graduate degrees (both master's and doctor's), and the remaining three percent completed first professional degrees (law, medicine, etc.).

Here's the big picture: 52% of the graduates described above have debt, 48% do not. At the bachelor's degree level, 62% of graduates have debt and 38% do not. Median student debt for bachelor's degree graduates is $29,929 in 2015-16 compared to $25,000 in 2011-12. Total median debt for bachelor's degree graduates (student debt plus PLUS debt) is $30,102 in 2015-16 compared to $27,000 in 2011-12.

Taking it a step further, the data allow us to take a closer look at all borrowers. At 72%, the majority are undergraduates. In turn, those undergraduates accounted for about 60% of all student debt. This look includes Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) rather than just student loans.





In the charts and tables above, the calculations are based on all reported loans, including parent PLUS Loans. The debt reports also allow users to separate out student-only loan information such as the change in undergraduate debt over a five year time period illustrated below.



These reports provide a comprehensive view of the patterns of student debt for recent graduates, but they do not explain why students borrowed or if students borrowed as much as they needed, but not as much as they wanted. If a student qualifies for federal borrowing, they are permitted to borrow up to the limit set by federal need methodology or other federally established limits. Private lenders may, or may not, set limits. It is thus up to individual students and their families to make those decisions. Because of the current borrowing systems in place, these reports reflect a combination of factors, including student choice and behavior, institutional cost of attendance, family income and borrowing options and limits.

Exploring the Data

1. 52% of all graduates at all levels have debt. 48% graduate without debt. At the bachelor's degree level, 62% of graduates have debt; 38% do not. (details)

2. Median student debt for bachelor's degree graduates is $26,929 in 2015-16. That's up from $25,000 in 2011-12. (details)

3. Median PLUS debt for bachelor's degree graduates is $24,570 in 2015-16. That's up from $18,6255 in 2011-12.(details)

4. Total median debt for bachelor's degree graduates (student debt plus PLUS debt) is $30,102 in 2015-16. It was $27,000 in 2011-12. (details)

5. The number of bachelor's degree graduates with debt has increased from 59% of the total graduates in 2011-12 to 63% in 2015-16, representing approximately 6,000 additional graduates with debt over the period. (This excludes PLUS.) (details)

6. Approximately 7.4% of bachelor's degree graduates (3,986 graduates) have student debt greater than $50,000.(details)

7. At the master's, doctoral and first professional levels, the number of graduates with debt and the amount of debt also has increased between 2011-12 and 2015-16. (This includes PLUS.)

8. A larger percentage of bachelor's degree graduates from private colleges (70% of total) have debt than graduates from public colleges (58%), and the amount they borrow is somewhat higher than graduates from public colleges ($28,524 to $26,718).

9. Bachelor's degree graduates from Virginia borrow at about the same rate as out-of-state graduates (63% to 60%). Median debt for Virginia borrowers is about $1,000 lower than debt for out-of-state graduates ($27,000 to $26,000). (details)

10. Graduates of the state's largest undergraduate bachelor's degree programs borrow at roughly the same level. (details)

11. Students at the master's, doctoral and first professional levels graduate with significantly more debt than undergraduate students.

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