Cumulative Debt of Bachelor's Degree Recipients at Four-Year Institutions over Time

In 2014-15, 61% of bachelor’s degree recipients from public and private nonprofit institutions graduated with an average of $28,100 in debt.

Figure 13: Average Cumulative Debt Levels in 2015 Dollars: Bachelor’s Degree Recipients at Four-Year Institutions, 1999-2000 to 2014-15, Selected Years

Notes & Sources 

NOTES: Figures include federal and nonfederal loans taken by students who began their studies at the institution from which they graduated. 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. Reported amounts are estimates and should be interpreted with caution. 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.

  • Debt levels of public four-year college graduates grew more rapidly between 2009-10 and 2014-15 than over either of the previous five-year periods. In 2014-15, average debt per borrower was $26,800 — 13% ($3,000 in 2015 dollars) higher than in 2009-10. Debt per graduate (including those with and without student debt) was $15,900 — 19% ($2,500) higher than in 2009-10.
  • Debt levels of private nonprofit four-year college graduates grew more slowly between 2009-10 and 2014-15 than during either of the previous five-year periods. In 2014-15, average debt per borrower was $31,400 — 4% ($1,300 in 2015 dollars) higher than in 2009-10. Debt per graduate (including those with and without student debt) was $19,900 — 1% ($100) higher than in 2009-10.
  • Among students with bachelor’s degrees from the public colleges in which they first enrolled, the percentage who graduated with debt increased from 54% in 1999-00 to 55% in 2004-05, to 56% in 2009-10, and to 60% in 2014-15.
  • The percentage of students earning bachelor’s degrees from the private nonprofit colleges in which they first enrolled who graduated with debt fluctuated between 63% and 66% from 1999-00 to 2014-15.