Student debt is straining millions of students' finances, and it is a hot-button topic on college campuses across the country. But if you look at who is really borrowing heavily, it's the graduate students.
Graduate students made up less than 18 percent of all the students receiving federal loans in the academic year 2012-2013, but they received about 40 percent of the federal money, according to an analysis of Department of Education data. And a study released in March by the New America Foundation found that for the roughly 64 percent of graduate students who take out loans, the median debt for their undergraduate and graduate education was over $57,000 in 2012, up from just over $40,000 in 2004.
"The people who are borrowing are borrowing everything," said Jason Delisle, director of the federal education budget project at the New America Foundation and the author of the recent study. "If you're going to borrow for graduate school, it's generally not people who are borrowing just to fill in the gaps."
The growth in graduate student borrowing has many roots. First, overall graduate student debt has increased as graduate school enrollment has risen. Between 2002 and 2012, applications to graduate school grew at an annual average rate of 4.5 percent, according to the Council of Graduate Schools. The growth was 3.8 percent at public universities and colleges, and 6.1 percent at private, nonprofit ones.
Tuition has been rising as well, though it varies widely depending on what a student is studying. Average tuition and fees at several top-tier business schools were close to $59,000 for the 2012-2013 school year, according to a U.S. News & World Report survey, up more than $6,000 from 2010.
Debra Stewart, president of the Council of Graduate Schools, said that on average, graduate school tuition increased 14 percent from 2004 to 2012, but that was far less than the 25 percent increase in undergraduate tuition over the same period.