More students getting a load of debt along with degree

Nov. 30, 2010 at 10:19 AM ET

AP file /

A higher education is leaving graduates weighed down by more debt than a decade ago, according to a new report. And those who attend private, for-profit universities are most likely to borrow the money they need for higher education.

A new report from Pew Research Center finds that 60 percent of all college graduates took on loans in 2008, compared with 52 percent in 1996.

The students also took on more debt than in years past. College students who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2008 owed $15,425 on average. That’s a more than 50 percent jump from 1996, when graduates had an average of $10,138 in debt.

The amount of debt students are piling on for associate’s degrees and certificates rose at an even faster pace, jumping to $6,649 on average in 2008, from $3,318 in 1996.

To adjust for inflation, all figures are in 2008 dollars. The averages also include those graduates who did not borrow any money.

The biggest jump in people borrowing money for education was among those who earned degrees or certificates from private, for-profit schools such as University of Phoenix and DeVry University. The researchers found that 95 percent of people who graduated from those programs in 2008 borrowed money for their education, compared with 77 percent in 1996.

By comparison, only 50 percent of those who graduated from a public university in 2008 borrowed money, up from 42 percent in 1996.

It’s no secret that a higher education can lead to better jobs, more job security and a higher salary. Still, tuition costs have risen sharply over the past decade, and experts caution that an education investment can backfire if you end up choked with debt, or with a degree or certificate that won’t give you a leg up.

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