Average Cumulative Debt Levels in 2016 Dollars: Bachelor’s Degree Recipients at Four-Year Institutions, 2000-01 to 2015-16

In 2015-16, the 60% of bachelor’s degree recipients from public and private nonprofit institutions who borrowed graduated with an average of $28,400 in debt.

Figure 12: Average Cumulative Debt Levels in 2016 Dollars: Bachelor’s Degree Recipients at Four-Year Institutions, 2000-01 to 2015-16

Figure 12 represents Average Cumulative Debt Levels in 2016 Dollars: Bachelor’s Degree Recipients at Four-Year Institutions, 2000-01 to 2015-16, Selected Years. For a corresponding Section 508-compliant data table, download the Excel spreadsheet.

Notes & Sources 

NOTES: Figures include federal and nonfederal loans taken by students who began their studies at the institution from which they graduated. Parent PLUS loans are not included. The orange bars represent the average cumulative debt levels of bachelor’s degree recipients who took student loans. The blue bars represent the average debt per bachelor’s degree recipient, including those who graduated without student debt. Calculations are based on the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded, which typically exceeds the number of students receiving degrees. The available data are not adequate to allow comparable calculations for for-profit institutions.

SOURCES: College Board, Annual Survey of Colleges, 2001 to 2016; calculations by the authors.

  • In 2015-16, average debt per graduate, including both those who borrowed and those who did not, was $16,900 for the two sectors combined.
  • Average debt levels of public four-year college graduates grew rapidly between 2005-06 and 2015-16. After increasing by $1,200 (in 2016 dollars) between 2000-01 and 2005-06, the average amount borrowed by those with student loans increased by $2,500 between 2005-06 and 2010-11 and by another $2,500 by 2015-16, when the 59% of graduates with student loans held, on average, $27,000 in debt.
  • Average debt levels of bachelor’s degree recipients from private nonprofit colleges grew rapidly between 2000-01 and 2005-06, when the average debt of borrowers rose by $4,500. Average debt increased by $2,000 over the next five years and by $1,200 between 2010-11 and 2015-16, to $32,000 for the 62% of gradates with student loans.