Cumulative Debt for Undergraduate and Graduate Studies over Time

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Among the 11% of graduate degree recipients with $120,000 or more in student loan debt, 80% of all education debt was associated with graduate study. Almost 60% of the debt of graduate students with less than $40,000 in total debt came from graduate study.

Figure 2014_16A: Cumulative Debt in 2012 Dollars for Undergraduate and Graduate Studies, 2003-04, 2007-08, and 2011-12

Figure 16A represents Cumulative Debt in 2012 Dollars for Undergraduate and Graduate Studies, 2003-04, 2007-08, and 2011-12.  For a corresponding Section 508-compliant data table, see http://trends.collegeboard.org/student-aid.

Notes & Sources 

NOTES: Includes all loans ever borrowed for both graduate and undergraduate education for 2011-12 and prior years. Doctoral degree–professional practice programs include chiropractic, dentistry, law, medicine, optometry, pharmacy, podiatry, and veterinary medicine. This category was labeled “first professional degrees” in 2003-04 and 2007-08. Includes students who were U.S. citizens or permanent residents and excludes postbaccalaureate and postmaster’s certificate recipients. Percentages may not sum to 100 because of rounding.

SOURCES: NCES, National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, 2004, 2008, and 2012.

  • The percentage of graduate degree recipients borrowing $80,000 or more (in 2012 dollars) for their combined undergraduate and graduate studies increased from 7% in 2003-04 to 11% in 2007-08, and to 23% in 2011-12.
  • The percentage of graduate degree recipients who did not borrow or who borrowed less than $40,000 for their combined undergraduate and graduate studies declined from 79% in 2003-04 to 66% in 2007-08, and to 53% in 2011-12.
  • Although over half of all students who received professional practice doctoral degrees (for example, doctors, lawyers, and dentists) in 2011-12 borrowed $120,000 or more for their combined undergraduate and graduate studies, only 11% of all graduate degree recipients accumulated this much debt.
  • Three-quarters of graduate degrees awarded in 2011-12 were master’s degrees. More than a quarter of master’s degree recipients did not borrow for either undergraduate or graduate education. Seventeen percent borrowed a total of $80,000 or more.