Graduate School Debt

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      Graduate School Debt

      The sustained rise in graduate debt also has substantial equity implications, particularly for Black students. Black students are more likely to borrow in graduate school and have more undergraduate debt than their white peers. (see Table 2) As a result, the median debt for a Black student borrower finishing graduate school is 50 percent higher than that of a white borrower. Societal pay disparities also mean that women with graduate degrees receive salaries comparable to their less-educated male peers. The result is that individuals seeking graduate education to address pervasive societal pay gaps will end up paying more for those credentials over the long run.

      This report lays out bold ideas to tackle student debt from graduate studies for programs that range from one-year certificates to doctoral degrees that can take close to a decade to earn. These ideas include enacting price caps, judging programs on a debt-to-earnings rate, and tackling specific credentials by eliminating a year of law school or ensuring that credentials required for teaching or social work are affordable based on what graduates will make.

      These are admittedly aggressive solutions that present significant political and policy challenges. Many of the solutions run into a broader philosophical question about whether the responsibility for ensuring manageable debt levels should live with higher education institutions, government, employers, or the student to ensure that graduates are neither trapped in a cycle of debt nor set up for economic hardship when they enter the workforce. This is a crucial question when there are degrees, such as a master’s in teaching or social work, that credentialing regimes require in order to work in a field in which the pay does not reflect the cost of getting that training. Similarly, reforms to bring down graduate debt could eliminate low-return degrees but also risk constricting supply or degrading quality. Effects such as these have the potential for significant equity worries in terms of who might be denied access or enrolled in places that sacrifice quality in order to make the math work on price.

      While these concerns are legitimate, the worries about graduate debt are too pervasive to stop the discussion or reforms in this area. That is why the purpose of this report is to launch an important new conversation about overlooked aspects of student debt and to grapple with some of the major pros and cons of each idea. It intentionally does not endorse specific solutions because there is no single approach and no one best fix to this problem. It does stipulate that these proposals should place a greater emphasis on accountability rather than spending new money for two reasons. First, additional federal dollars for higher education are best invested in public undergraduate education and private minority-serving institutions that have faced historical discrimination and underinvestment. Second, the rise in expensive programs and debt does not appear to be driven by the same underlying cost shifting that is occurring in public higher education at the undergraduate level.

      Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

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