There are many great organizations advocating for college students. One of the best I have run across is the Institute for College Access and Success (www.ticas.org). On October 18th, the Institute released a new report “Student Debt and the Class of 2015.” This report is the eleventh in the series, which seeks to examine key trends in the student debt arena and potential solutions for the future.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Sixty-eight percent of college seniors graduated with federal student loan debt.
  • Of the sixty-eight percent graduating with federal student loan debt, the average debt was $30,100.
  • Of the sixty-eight percent graduating with federal student loan debt, the range of indebtedness varied greatly, from as low as $3,000 to as high as $53,000.
  • Of the sixty-eight percent graduating private loans accounted for 19% of the total debt outstanding for which these students are liable.

POINTS OF CONCERN:

  • For students who rely on federal loans to fund some portion of their education, total indebtedness at graduation continues to creep up. 2015 saw a 4% year over year increase.
  • Colleges are not required to report the debt levels of their graduates.
    • In this year’s report only fifty-six percent (56%) or 1,116 public and non-profit colleges in the US reported figures for both average debt and percentage with debt for the class of 2015 (page 3).
    • “Only 13 of 612 (2%) for profit, four-year bachelor’s degree granting colleges chose to report both the percentage of graduating students in the Class of 2015 with loans and the average debt of those students” (page 2).
  • The increase in the use of private debt (19%) speaks to the potential problem that many students are exhausting safer funding routes and turning to private lenders as a funding alternative.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

In the grand scheme of things, this report does not break any new ground. It confirms much of what students advocates have been saying for years and TICAS continues its history of adding great information for the debate. As one who counsels parents and students in this arena, I would focus on two trends and a final thought. First, as the total cost of enrollment continues to rise, so does the amount funded by student loans. If the total amount allowed through federal borrowing programs is not increased, more and more students will find themselves going the private loan route, or worse (i.e. credit cards) to make up any funding shortfalls. Second, when examining potential colleges and universities, try to get information on the total indebtedness of an average student at graduation and what percentage of the student body has accepted federal loans. While these are “average” numbers, it will be helpful to use these numbers as a baseline. Finally, remember that the institution you choose and the debt you incur is a choice. Be willing to walk away from a school if the potential debt load is too great. While you may be leaving your “ideal school” there are plenty of other institutions who would love to have you as a student.