Rising Student Debt and the Great Recession

Rising Student Debt and the Great Recession

By Oksana Leukhina, Senior Economist

Outstanding student debt within the U.S. has greater than tripled since 2006, surpassing $1.6 trillion. Student debt began at 4% of gross home product in 2006, rose drastically all through the Great Recession and stabilized at practically 8% of GDP in 2016. This dramatic development has made student debt a much-discussed matter amongst policymakers and the general public, however little is often stated about its particular elements.

In this weblog put up, we’ll take a more in-depth take a look at loans taken out since 2006 and on the students behind them. The indisputable fact that general student debt greater than tripled throughout this era signifies that new borrowing considerably exceeded reimbursement of previous debt. Our focus right here is on new borrowing.

New Loans: Undergraduate and Graduate

Since 2006, graduate college students have taken on an rising fraction of complete new loans, accounting for roughly one-third of loans taken out in 2006 and round 40% of loans taken out in 2018. The determine under reveals that this shift within the composition of latest loans happened after the Great Recession: Annual undergraduate borrowing steadily declined, whereas annual graduate borrowing remained pretty flat. Today, about 50% of complete student debt is owed by households with a graduate diploma.

Line chart depicting total new federal student loans per year for both undergraduate, graduate, and total

New Loans: Two-Year and Four-Year Undergraduates

The determine additionally reveals dramatic development in student borrowing—particularly undergraduate borrowing—through the onset of and all through the Great Recession. This was doubtless pushed by the slowdown of financial development and extra scarce employment alternatives, which might sway some highschool graduates who would possibly usually have entered the workforce after highschool to attend school as an alternative.

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Consistent with our conjecture, the subsequent determine reveals that undergraduate enrollment in open-admission two-year faculties – the first vacation spot for these marginal students – elevated by 20% throughout this era earlier than subsequently declining and returning to its authentic development through the interval of financial restoration. In distinction, enrollment in four-year faculties adopted a comparatively secure upward development, with solely a really slight acceleration through the recessionary interval.

Line graph depicting fall freshmen enrollment for four-year college compared to two-year college

The subsequent determine reveals common annual undergraduate borrowing amongst full-time students. It reveals that common student-level borrowing performed an important position within the evolution of complete annual student debt.

Line chart showing average annual federal borrowing among undergraduates for both four-year college and two-year college

Average annual borrowing amongst students at two-year faculties elevated by practically 50% through the recession, double the contemporaneous rise in enrollment ranges. Four-year school students additionally took on considerably extra debt instantly earlier than and through the recession, thereby additionally contributing to the general debt development.

The annual quantity borrowed declined by a smaller quantity because the economic system recovered, indicating that the primary cause for the elevated borrowing was not the decline in parental transfers or part-time job alternatives through the recessionary interval, however reasonably the regular enhance within the common value of school.

Effect of Time Spent in College

Thus far, we mentioned freshman enrollment charges and common annual borrowing per undergraduate student. The remaining essential issue behind the whole quantity of annual debt taken on by undergraduates is the size of time students spend in school.

In truth, this era noticed an essential enhance in commencement charges amongst undergraduates—from 46% to 53%—and there may be proof that the time wanted to graduate elevated as nicely. These tendencies elevated the general variety of school students in any given 12 months, additional pushing up annual undergraduate borrowing.

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These tendencies additionally clarify why median student debt upon leaving undergraduate establishments has constantly elevated all through this era, regardless of common annual loans declining since 2011: When students keep in school longer, they have an inclination to build up extra debt by the point they go away.

The determine under illustrates median student debt upon leaving the establishment amongst first-time, full-time debtors.

Line chart depicting average median federal debt among first-time, full-time borrowers upon leaving a four-year compared to a two-year college


We noticed that graduate students and four-year undergraduate students have taken on an rising fraction of annual student loans, as tuition and costs have continued to climb and students have spent extra years in school. These tendencies are more likely to proceed.

We additionally noticed that two-year school students contributed considerably to the speedy development of student debt through the Great Recession via the short-term spike in each enrollment and common borrowing.

It shall be attention-grabbing to see if the higher education attainment seen throughout this era will lead to higher reimbursement charges, which might assist decelerate the expansion of the general inventory of student debt.

Notes and References

1 Pyne, Jaymes and Grodsky, Eric. “Inequality and Opportunity in a Perfect Storm of Graduate Student Debt.” Sociology of Education, January 2020, Vol. 93, No. 1, 20-39.

2 This sample is pushed virtually completely by the dynamics in enrollment fee, and never by the demographic change.

3 Note that these numbers shouldn’t be straight in comparison with the sooner graph, which incorporates all undergraduates (not simply newly enrolled, full-time ones) and a greater variety of establishments.

4 The common tuition and costs paid by the students rose over 60% throughout this era.

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5 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, National Postsecondary Student Aid research and authors’ calculations.

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