The Project on Student Debt released their Student Debt and Class of 2009 Report today. Here are some of their key findings (go to report for footnotes):
- 2009 graduates saw 6% increase in overall student debt...: "We estimate that college seniors who graduated in 2009 carried an average of $24,000 in student loan debt, up six percent from the previous year.1 The six percent increase in average debt at the national level is similar to the average annual increase over the past four years, despite the recent economic downturn. It is likely that the Class of 2009 took out the bulk of their student loans before the recession began. Additionally, many colleges made concerted efforts to increase or maintain need-based grant aid when the economy faltered, so that students could afford to stay in school.2
- While unemployment rates spiked for 20-24 year old college graduates: "The unemployment rate for young college graduates rose from 5.8 percent in 2008 to 8.7 percent in 2009, the highest annual rate on record.3
- And making those first few payments are incredibly important: In their conference call on Wednesday, Sallie Mae executives highlighted how important these early payments were in driving private loan charge-offs: "For example, approximately 80% of our charge-offs occur before a borrower makes 12 payments."
- Levels of indebtedness vary greatly by state and institution: "State averages for debt at graduation from four-year colleges ranged widely in 2009, from $13,000 to $30,000. As in previous years, high-debt states are concentrated in the Northeast, while low-debt states are mainly in the West. Average debt continued to vary even more at the campus level than at the state level, from $3,000 to $61,500. Colleges with higher tuition tend to have higher average debt, but there are many examples of high tuition and low average debt and vice versa."
The report states that these figures are probably under-reporting the actual debt levels, for these reasons:
- Largely excludes for-profit institutions: "it is important to note that this report reflects only graduates of public and private nonprofit four-year colleges because so few for-profit colleges report student debt data...graduates of for-profit four-year colleges are much more likely to borrow student loans and borrow significantly more than their counterparts at public and private nonprofit colleges."
- Self-reported data: "Debt figures are estimates, which are reported voluntarily by campus officials and are not audited or reviewed by any outside entity."
- Difficulty of tracking private loan data: "...colleges may not be aware of all the private loans their students carry."
The report concludes with these recommendations to improve the disclosure and dissemination of student debt levels:
- Expanding collection of student loan data through IPEDS
- Require full school certification of private loans (see recent post on how private loans are being certified today)
- Include private loan data in the NSLDS so student borrowers can have a consolidated view of their outstanding debt
- Collect and publish loan repayment rates and debt-to-income ratios
- Recall that in August the Department of Education released repayment rates for all institutions (from NY Times): "...repayment rates were 54 percent at public colleges and universities, 56 percent at private nonprofit institutions, and 36 percent at for-profit colleges.