Debt and Degrees

By Emmett Rees

A policy paper published by New America, “The Graduate Student Debt Review,” analyzes the trends in graduate school student borrowing between 2004 and 2012. The results indicate a staggering increase in student debt among graduate students. The data used was taken by the United States Department of Education’s National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey, which occurs every four years and surveys students who completed or will complete graduate school in that given year. This article expands on the theme of upward social mobility that was mentioned in our podcast by giving details about the financing of higher degrees, specifically graduate school.

One of the many caveats of higher education is that it often comes with the accruement of student loans. This debt is often viewed with negative connotation as we have seen in class discussions, the Death, Sex, & Money Podcast  “Student Loan Secrets,” and excerpts from “Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream. When looking at student debt, the focus is often placed exclusively on undergraduate financing, with the effects of graduate school loans largely being overlooked. This is surprising given that loans amassed during graduate school account for 40% of total student debt, according to “The Graduate Student Debt Review.” In contrast, “Paying the Price,” focused solely on the continuously increasing undergraduate tuition rates, failing to mention the equally increasing cost of attending graduate school. This seems counterintuitive since the average debt of an undergraduate student is typically lower than that of an individual with a graduate degree.

By combining knowledge gained in class with our podcast research we determined that obtaining an undergraduate degree is crucial to achieve upward social mobility. However, the impact of a graduate degree on upward social mobility was largely overlooked in the data we looked at. In Death, Sex, & Money “An Education or Nothing” we learned that Ramal was pursuing a Ph.D. in order to move up in class, although no further information as to whether this degree was worth the time and money was ever provided.

In conclusion, the data on graduate degree finances shows that younger generations are willing to accumulate larger sums of debt than past generations, in order to obtain a higher degree. These upcoming generations believe that in order to achieve the American Dream a higher level of education is necessary, thus they are willing to sacrifice more to obtain one. Due to this, an increasingly diverse population of individuals have decided to attend graduate school, when they may not have done so in the past. The most emergent theme in our podcast was the importance of higher level education as a mode of upward social mobility, however the financing of these degrees is oftentimes excluded from discussion. “The Graduate Student Debt Review,” offered insight and additional information regarding this often overlooked topic of debt among graduate students, enabling an increased understanding of the entire realm of student debt and education.

Source: Delisle, Jason. 2014. “The Graduate Student Debt Review.” New America https://static.newamerica.org/attachments/750-the-graduate-student-debt-review/GradStudentDebtReview-Delisle-Final.pdf

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