This analysis focuses on three classes of newly minted college graduates, that is, undergraduates who had recently completed a bachelor’s degree: the class of 1992-93, 1999-00, and 2011-12. The analysis is restricted to those receiving bachelor’s degrees in order to concentrate on the group of undergraduates that public discussions typically emphasize.4
Among college students who graduated in 2011-12, fully seven-in-ten (69%) borrowed money to finance their education. This represents a sharp increase from 20 years earlier when roughly half (49%) of graduates left school with some student debt.
Not only are more students borrowing these days, but those who do take out loans are graduating with a much larger debt. Among 2011-12 graduates who took out student loans, the typical amount borrowed was $26,885. This is the median, meaning that half the borrowers had accumulated less than $26,885 in education debt and half had accumulated at least $26,885. The typical amount of student debt incurred by borrowers in the class of 1992-93 was $12,434, or less than half of the most recent level.5