Higher Education:

Students Have Increased Borrowing and Working to Help Pay Higher Tuitions

HEHS-98-63: Published: Feb 18, 1998. Publicly Released: Feb 18, 1998.

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Carlotta C. Joyner
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on: (1) the changes that have occurred in recent years in the percentage of undergraduate and graduate/professional students who borrow and in the cumulative amount of their borrowing; (2) the changes that have occurred in the percentage of undergraduate and graduate/professional students who work and the number of hours they work; (3) how undergraduate borrowing and work patterns differ by type of school, year in school, dependency status, family income, and race/ ethnicity; and (4) information concerning the amounts of education debt parents incur. GAO based its review in large part on an analysis of data collected by the Department of Education as part of the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.

GAO noted that: (1) over the past several years, students have turned increasingly to borrowing to cope with rising education costs; (2) at the undergraduate level, the percentage of postsecondary students who had borrowed by the time they completed their programs (received a bachelor's degree, associate degree, or award or certificate) increased from 41 percent in 1992-93 to 52 percent in 1995-96; (3) the average amount of debt per student increased from about $7,800 to about $9,700 in constant 1995-96 dollars; (4) for graduating seniors (recipients of bachelor's degrees) and who had borrowed, the average rose from about $10,100 to about $13,300; (5) the portion of these graduates with $20,000 or more of student debt grew from 9 percent to 19 percent during the period; (6) students attending 4-year public institutions showed the largest increase in the number of borrowers; (7) sixty percent of seniors graduating from these schools in 1995-96 borrowed at some point in their program, up from 42 percent in 1992-93 and about even with the percentage of borrowers at private 4-year schools; (8) students at 2-year public institutions borrowed least often and in lesser amounts; (9) at the graduate and professional levels, the percentage of borrowers and the level of debt generally increased; (10) higher borrowing levels were especially pronounced at professional schools, where average debt among borrowers completing their programs climbed from about $45,000 in 1992-93 to nearly $60,000 in 1995-96; (11) more full-time undergraduates worked while attending school in 1995-96 than in 1992-93; (12) more than two-thirds of full-time undergraduate students held jobs during 1995-96, working an average of 23 hours a week while enrolled; (13) at graduate and professional schools, the percentage of full-time students who worked changed little over the same period; (14) about two-thirds of master's and doctoral students worked, usually in part-time jobs directly related to their field of study; (15) at professional schools, less than half worked while enrolled; (16) some variations in borrowing and work patterns can also be seen on the basis of the cost of attendance, dependency status, family income, and gender; (17) however, most characteristics are not very strong predictors of how much undergraduates were likely to borrow or work; (18) little information is available about amounts of debt parents accumulate in order to pay for their children's postsecondary education; and (19) in general, household debt for education remains a small share of household debt.

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