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Guide to the Graduate Debt Reports

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Graduate Debt Reports

The Code of Virginia (23-9.2:3.04) directs SCHEV to publish a report on the wages and debt of graduates from Virginia’s public and private nonprofit institutions of higher education. The data shall include the major and degree program, percentage of those employed in the Commonwealth, average salary, and the average higher education-related debt of graduates.

The first release of these reports on the debt of graduates provides information on the number of graduates borrowing, and the amount borrowed by domicile status, gender, and race over the previous five years. Each report displays the percent of graduates who were reported to SCHEV with student loans and the known debt at the time of graduation by quartiles (25th percentile, median or 50th percentile, 75th percentile, and mean). As a reminder, each percentile represents the point at which the given percentage of observations falls below. For example, at the 25th percentile, 25% of all observations fall below that line. At the median, or 50th percentile, half of all observations are below that line, half are above.

Please note: Institutions often have little control over how much a student chooses to borrow. Student borrowing is a mixture of institutional cost and student choice and behavior.

The graduate debt include all known debt reported by institutions to SCHEV. We have broken it into three categories: Student, PLUS, and Total. Student debt reflects all known debt, excluding PLUS loans. PLUS loans, originally "Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students" are treated separately for undergraduates to allow discernment between student and parent borrowing. We leave this separation for PLUS-Grad loans in place at the program level for graduate and professional programs as a reporting convenience. Total loans combine the two categories.



The student debt figures are derived from SCHEV’s student unit record financial aid data files (FADF) reported to SCHEV by Virginia’s public and private-not-for profit institutions.

Loans that were not processed by the institution and loans received outside of Virginia are not included in the accumulated debt totals.

Loans were grouped and summarized into three debt categories - student loans (federal, private, institutional, excluding PLUS loans); PLUS (Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students, and PLUS Grad loans for graduate/first professional students); and total loans as combined PLUS and student loans aggregated by student, institution, reporting year, term and student level.

The summarized loans were then accumulated by student, reporting year, term and student level group (e.g. undergraduate, graduate and first professional). Reported debt totals represent cumulative totals by level at the time of award. This means that the loan amounts for a student transferring prior to completing a bachelor's degree will include loans incurred at all institutions prior to the award. Likewise, for a student completing multiple graduate degrees, such as master degree followed by doctorate, the loan amounts for the most recent degree will include those for the previous graduate degree.


Summer Term

Summer term is defined historically in SCHEV Research data collections as a “leading term” on the Degrees Conferred data file, and thus summer term on the FADF file was also treated as leading. This was so SCHEV could standardize the summer term definition across data files. In this case, "Leading term" means summer comes first, then fall, and spring, as the chronological order of the data.

Graduate/First Professional Debt

While SCHEV started collecting graduate and first professional financial aid data from the institutions in 2004-05, the institutions are required to report federal and state aid. Thus, only federal loans (Subsidized/Unsubsidized Stafford, and PLUS-Grad) are included in the debt figures shown at the graduate and first professional degree levels. With significant borrowing occurring from private lenders, which some institutions report voluntarily, we know these figures understate the scope of debt for graduate and professional graduates.

Disclosable values

Programs and degree levels are suppressed where there are fewer than 10 completers reported or fewer than 10 borrowers are reported.



Majority Students – Includes all students reported to SCHEV with ethnicity of "Not Hispanic" and race as "White", "Unknown", or "Unreported", and non-resident aliens.

Students of Color – Includes all students reported to SCHEV with ethnicity of Hispanic and/or specified race categories other than "White", "Unknown", or "Unreported", and execludes non-resident aliens.


25th Percentile – Also known as the 1st quartile, denotes the value at which 25 percent of observations fall below.

Median – The mid-point of debt (meaning half of graduates that borrowed were below that amount, half were above) at the time of graduation for each year and shows the five-year trend.

Mean - The sum of the loan amounts divided by the number of borrowers at the time of graduation for each year and shows the five-year trend. Also known as the “average”.

75th Percentile – Also known as the 3rd quartile, denotes the value at which 75 percent of observations fall below.
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