beginning of content:

Key Points

  • Independent students are most likely to graduate with high levels of debt: 28% borrowed at least $40,000, including 17% who graduated with $50,000 or more in debt.

  • Among the 60% of 2015-16 bachelor’s degree recipients who were age 23 or younger, 33% did not have education debt; 11% borrowed $40,000 or more.

  • About a quarter of those who graduated between the ages of 24 and 29 did not borrow; 27% of those who were between the ages of 24 and 29 and 35% of those who were 30 years of age or older borrowed $40,000 or more.

  • Only 14% of black graduates did not borrow. Among white, Asian, and Hispanic bachelor’s degree recipients, 30% or more graduated without debt.

Figure 15A: Cumulative Debt of 2015-16 Bachelor’s Degree Recipients by Dependency Status and Family Income

Figure 15B: Cumulative Debt of 2015-16 Bachelor’s Degree Recipients by Age

NOTES: Percentages on the vertical axis are shares of bachelor’s degree recipients in each dependency and income group in Figure 15A and shares of those in each age group in Figure 15B. Age was as of December 2015. Includes both federal and nonfederal borrowing for degree recipients who were U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Excludes parent PLUS loans. Includes students who transferred as well as students who received their degrees at for-profit and two-year institutions. Percentages may not sum to 100 because of rounding.

SOURCES: NCES, National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), 2016; calculations by the authors.

Figure 16: Cumulative Debt of 2015-16 Bachelor’s Degree Recipients by Race/Ethnicity

NOTES: Percentages on the vertical axis are shares of bachelor’s degree recipients in each racial/ethnic group. Includes both federal and nonfederal borrowing for 2015-16 bachelor’s degree recipients who were U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Excludes parent PLUS loans. Includes students who transferred as well as students who received their degrees at for-profit and two-year institutions. Percentages may not sum to 100 because of rounding.

SOURCES: NCES, NPSAS, 2016; calculations by the authors.

Also Important

  • Dependent students can borrow a lifetime maximum of $31,000 in Direct loans for undergraduate study. Independent students (and undergraduate students whose parents are not eligible for PLUS loans) can borrow up to $57,500.
  • For 14% of 2015-16 bachelor’s degree recipients, total debt included private loans, which do not carry the same repayment protections as federal loans. (NPSAS, 2016).
  • Because of small sample sizes in this survey, it is not possible to report separately on American Indian students or other small racial and ethnic groups.
  • On average, black and Hispanic households have less wealth than those from other racial and ethnic groups. In 2014, when median net worth was $130,800 for white households and $156,500 for Asian households, it was $17,500 for Hispanic households and $9,600 for black households. (U.S. Census Bureau, Wealth and Asset Ownership, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2014/demo/wealth/wealth-asset-ownersh...)