Seven in 10 seniors (68 percent) who graduated from public and nonprofit colleges in 2015 had student loan debt. Each averaged $30,100, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.
But one-third of college graduates leave school debt free.
"Fortunately, many of the people going to college are people who don’t now have the resources to pay for it," said Sandy Baum, senior fellow in the Income and Benefits Policy Center at the Urban Institute. "Therefore, they are borrowing, and that adds to outstanding debt,"
According to the Debt Clock, the average amount of student debt is $25,560 for all 43 million loan recipients. The average 2016 graduate faced $37,172 of debt that grows by $2,726 every second with interest.
Why is there so much debt? The narrative of student debt isn't clear.
"The sort of factoid that is most common about student debt is that its more than ... $1.3 trillion nationally," Baum said. "That’s true, but it's not clear what that means, and what matters is what [are the] circumstances of individual students."
There are multiple causes for the growth of student debt, she said, speaking at the annual American Council on Education (ACE) meeting in Washington, D.C. in mid-March.
“One big reason why the amount of outstanding debt grows is because more and more people are going to college,” Baum said at ACE.
Also, graduate-school students studying for well-paying careers as lawyers, doctors and dentists, are accumulating much more than the average college debt.
"On average, students earning a graduate degree will leave school with an average of $43,500 in accumulated college loans," according to College Scholarships.
The highest average indebtedness for law schools in the U.S. went to Thomas Jefferson School of Law. On average, 90 percent of graduates left school with an average $182,411 of debt, according to U.S. News & World Report.
This cost is greater for medical students. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AMA), 76 percent of students graduate with debt, and of those who have debt, the average amount is $189,165.
According to the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) the average debt for all indebted 2016 dental school graduates was $261,149, and 80 percent of all dental school graduates in 2016 reported being more than $100,000 in debt.
"The best-paid earned more than $187,200, while the lowest-paid earned less than $68,310" according to U.S. News & World Report.
“It’s the current incomes of the student debt holders that are high, not necessarily where they came from when they borrowed the money,” said Baum.
Students who attend for-profit institutions such as Strayer University and University of Phoenix, are also more likely to be in debt and more likely to struggle to pay it back. Besides lower earning, debt was another issue for students at for-profit colleges. About nine out of 10 students borrowed money to attend for-profit colleges.
Good news for students who attend public colleges in the 50 U.S. states: Those schools produced graduates with higher pay benefits and lower debt than private, for-profit schools, according to a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
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