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New NCES Report Tracks Student Loan Borrowing of Great Recession Graduates

April 27, 2017

A new report on student loan borrowers who graduated from college in 2007-08 shows nearly one in five who only borrowed for their undergraduate education had paid off their loans by 2012, and those who were still repaying their undergraduate debt owed an average of $24,200.

In The Debt Burden of Bachelor’s Degree Recipients, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) analyzed the loan repayment status of the 2007-08 cohort in 2012—when borrowers were about halfway through the standard 10-year student loan repayment period. NCES selected this cohort for analysis because its students entered a declining post-graduation labor market after having borrowed money in a better economy. Therefore, its members may experience more difficulty paying off their debts, according to the report.

The study uses a representative sample from the Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study combined with loan data from the National Student Loan Database to examine debt incurred for all postsecondary education—including for post-baccalaureate programs borrowers entered after graduating in 2007-08. The analysis takes into account both federal postsecondary loans and private educational loans from banks.

According to the results, 72 percent of students who earned a bachelor’s degree in 2007-08 borrowed to finance their undergraduate or subsequent graduate education. Students who had not enrolled in graduate programs and were still paying back their loans owed an average of $24,200 in loan principal and interest in 2012. This amount varied by type of occupation in 2012. Overall, 69 percent who borrowed only for their undergraduate education were still paying off their loans, 17 percent had already repaid them, 9 percent still owed money but were not paying, and 5 percent had defaulted on their loans.

Employed borrowers in repayment status who had not borrowed additional money for graduate school paid about 10 percent of their monthly salaries, on average, in student loan payments, referred to as "average debt burden." However, 22 percent of employed borrowers in repayment status carried an average debt burden over 12 percent.

Students who borrowed additional funds for graduate study owed an average of $61,300 in 2012, though this figure varied by the type of graduate program in which they were enrolled.

The full report is available online.


Lesley McBain
Assistant Director, Research and Policy Analysis