Black, first-generation graduates take out more student loans
While about one-third of recent college graduates took out loans totaling more than $25,000, that figure is significantly higher for black graduates and those who were first in their family to go to college.
The finding comes from the second annual survey from Gallup and Purdue University of college graduates and their satisfaction, and it raises concerns about how student loans affect the ability of higher education to level the playing field for those coming from less-privileged backgrounds.
This year's report, which assesses alumni perceptions of their undergraduate experiences and how those experiences relate to their well-being and job quality later in life, addressed several new research items, including the effect of high student loan debt on alumni.
Among those recent graduates who received their degrees between 2006 and 2015, 63 percent say they took out student loans for their undergraduate education, with the median reported amount at $30,000.
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Overall, 35 percent of recent graduates took out loans totaling more than $25,000, which the survey notes is the level at which debt burden appears to have a more serious impact on graduates' lives. Importantly, though, that percentage rose to half for recent black alumni and to 42 percent among first-generation college students.
Interestingly, Hispanic alumni are no more likely than white graduates to have incurred high levels of debt – though they are less likely than white alumni to have taken out no loans at all.
The survey also looked at the extent to which student debt forces graduates to delay major purchases, including paying for additional education.
More than a third, or 36 percent, of recent graduates with student loans say they have delayed buying a home while one-third, or 33 percent, say they have postponed buying a car. In addition, 19 percent of recent graduates who took out student loans say the debt has forced them to delay starting their own business and 48 percent say they have delayed postgraduate education because of it.
The Gallup-Purdue Index, as it's called, is based on an Internet survey of more than 30,000 graduates from across the U.S. with a bachelor's degree or higher and with Internet access.
The poll aimed to answer two main questions: Do U.S. universities provide students with opportunities and experiences equal to increasing college fees? And do students graduate well equipped for finding good jobs and prospering financially, as well as for pursuing their passions and leading healthy, fulfilling lives?
As the report points out, there is a lack of reliable measures to hold universities accountable to these kinds of outcomes. Various college rankings, including those of U.S. News & World Report, often rely on data such as average SAT scores, which aren't as meaningful to students, the survey argues.
Overall, half of alumni "strongly agreed" that their education was worth the cost and 27 percent "agreed."
When comparing alumni of public universities and private nonprofit universities, the figure varies only slightly, as 52 percent strongly agreed that their education was worth the cost compared to 47 percent. But that figure drops sharply among graduates of private for-profit universities, only 26 percent of whom agreed.
Notably, alumni of for-profit schools are disproportionately minorities or first-generation college students and are substantially more likely than those from public or private nonprofit schools to have taken out $25,000 or more in student loans.
The poll also found that graduates who received their degrees between 2006 and 2015 are significantly less likely than all graduates overall to think their education was worth the cost, 50 percent compared to 38 percent – though that could be a result of both older alumni making more money and younger alumni making student loan payments.
Overall, alumni were nearly two times as likely to agree that their education was worth the cost if they felt professors at the school cared about them as a person, if at least one professor made them excited about learning and if they had a mentor who encouraged them. Other factors that made it more likely that alumni would agree that the cost was worth the degree include if they were active in extracurricular activities, held a leadership position in a club or other organization, had a job or internship or worked on a project that took a semester of more to complete.