Misleading: Student loan debt NOT from undergrad degrees

For example, the report cites a 2013 Wall Street Journal article about a 23 year-old student, Nicole Preucil, who said that she’s a public university student with $60K in student loans.

“I think tuition is absolutely too much,” said Preucil in the WSJ article, which noted that Preucil  “works part time at Starbucks to cover living expenses. Her parents, one disabled and the other working at a retail store, don’t provide financial support. ‘I kind of didn’t realize how expensive it was going to be here.’”

“Given the framing of the article–rising college costs and student debt–careful readers are surprised to learn that Nicole earned her undergraduate degree with a manageable $10,000 in loans, about one-third of what is typical for her peers who borrowed, after she ‘cobbled together scholarships and grants [and] worked part time’ to pay for her education,” notes the report. “That is why her comments regarding unaffordable tuition are actually about graduate school and the $50,000 in debt she added to her initial $10,000 to pursue that degree.”

The report emphasizes that Preucil’s story is “not unusual,” and her debt level is not the norm for a master’s degree recipient who borrows to pay for school.

“Balances for undergraduates, meanwhile, are low on average compared to those of graduate and professional students,” says the report.

But that’s not to say the report condones the rising cost of graduate degrees.

According to its data analysis, the trend of rising graduate degree costs are not limited to “high-cost credentials” like medicine and law. According to the data, in 2004 the median level of indebtedness for a borrower who earned a Master of Arts degree was $38K. In 2012, that figure jumped to $59K after adjusting for inflation. The trend is similar for other areas of study.

“This report is meant to encourage policymakers, the media, students, and others to start examining issues of college access, cost, and student debt only after first distinguishing between graduate education and a more limited definition of “college,” a two-year or four-year postsecondary credential,” stated the report.

It’s important to make this distinction, it says, because failure to distinguish between these two different categories of credentials is a flaw in how society perceives student debt.

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